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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, June 4, 2003

Kobayashi brought us chaos

By David Shapiro

City Council Budget Chairwoman Ann Kobayashi has taken her colleagues on wild budget rides for the past two years that have been worthy of Mr. Toad.

The city's annual $1.169 billion annual spending plan, due for final passage today, has been in chaos for weeks as a result of Kobayashi's pointless game of political chicken with both Mayor Jeremy Harris and Council Chairman Gary Okino.

The hastily assembled scheme that passed out of Kobayashi's committee last week eliminates $13 million in new revenues requested by the mayor, but makes less than $1 million in compensating spending cuts.

The budget is balanced in name only, as Kobayashi made up the difference with the same kind of dubious refinancing of debt for which she slammed Harris last year.

"This is my 18th budget," says Harris, who was managing director for nine years before becoming mayor. "I've never seen a budget in this disarray at this late date."

"It makes us look like we don't know what we're doing," frets freshman Councilman Charles Djou.

This spectacle of dysfunction is the last thing the new council needs six months into its term, as it struggles to regain public respect after the previous council gave us eight years of inept power struggles and outright misconduct.

The budget is the council's chief tool for shaping city policy and setting priorities. Members can't credibly argue that they've responsibly fulfilled this vital function in the last two years.

Under the leadership of Kobayashi, who lost to Harris for mayor in 1994 and had a bad experience when he later hired her as an aide, there's been no clear budgeting philosophy except to oppose whatever the mayor wants.

She's waged negotiations by directing gratuitous public insults at the administration, showing what Harris says is little interest in good-faith collaboration to work out differences.

She frames the debate to fellow council members in terms of showing solidarity and standing up to the mayor. Nobody talks about showing solidarity with voters who elected all of them to work together for the common good.

Last year, Kobayashi led us through a spring of inflammatory rhetoric about how the Harris budget would bankrupt the city.

Then her committee passed the mayor's budget virtually intact, leading to one of two unflattering conclusions: Either her bombast about financial ruin was disingenuous, or she irresponsibly passed a budget that she truly felt would bankrupt the city.

This year, she's attacked the Harris plan as a "phantom budget" while herself pulling numbers out of thin air, such as double-counting sales proceeds from Block J and depending on more than $1 million in new park fees that are unlikely to materialize.

Kobayashi threatened at one point to hold key elements of the budget in her committee without action, a clear violation of the council's legal obligation to pass a balanced annual spending plan.

Certainly the mayor can be a difficult guy for council members to like. The information he sends them often comes spinning like a Bey Blade, with benefits inflated and costs downplayed to support his positions.

The council has a duty to closely scrutinize proposals such as the Harris recycling program that could reduce trash pickups or force residents to pay for them.

But policy-making based so blatantly on personal and political animosity serves nobody's interests.

Kobayashi has the look of somebody positioning herself for higher office. She denies any interest in becoming council chairman or mayor, but remember that she also once said she had no desire to run for re-election to the council.

David Shapiro can be reached at dave@volcanicash.net.