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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, February 2, 2006

Hawaiians weigh in on revenue deal

By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer

Representatives from several nonprofit agencies that provide services to Native Hawaiians told state lawmakers yesterday they support a proposed partial settlement reached between the Lingle administration and negotiators for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs over the issue of ceded land claims.

Some of the groups said OHA funding is vital for their operations.

Mervina Cash-Ka'eo, who heads Alu Like as president and chief executive officer, said her group uses the state agency's funding for its Kulia Like program, which provides outreach services, transportation and educational opportunities for young and elderly Hawaiians. OHA funds are also tapped for financial literacy and home ownership efforts, she said.

"While identified needs in the Hawaiian community continue to grow, the resources to meet those needs continue to dwindle," Cash-K'aeo said.

In written testimony, leaders of the Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association called the agreement "both fair and equitable." Other groups submitting written testimony included Papa Ola Lokahi and the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp.

An OHA negotiating team along with Gov. Linda Lingle and members of her administration last week announced the tentative agreement on a partial settlement regarding a long-standing debate over ceded lands. The 1.4 million-plus acres of former crown and government lands once part of the Hawaiian kingdom are held in trust by the state.

The proposed agreement still must be approved by the OHA board of trustees, which is expected to address the matter today, and by the Legislature.

The state is required by the state constitution to earmark a share of revenues from the use of ceded lands for the benefit of Native Hawaiians, with OHA given the duty to manage and administer those funds. The constitution leaves it up to the Legislature, however, to determine how much OHA should receive.

Under the proposed partial settlement, OHA would be allocated $15 million annually and receive a one-time sum of $17.5 million in back payments.

In recent years, OHA has been receiving about $10 million annually as its pro rata share of revenues derived from the public land trust. Such revenues include harbor fees, leases from a portion of the land under the jurisdiction of the Department of Transportation, parking revenues from 'Iolani Palace and other ceded lands, and leases from a portion of land in Kaka'ako under the jurisdiction of the Hawai'i Community Development Authority.

The back payments would cover a period from July 1, 2001, to June 30, 2005, reflecting additional receipts from the use of the lands.

The settlement proposal does not include additional state revenues to which OHA believes it is entitled. A decision in a lawsuit over that revenue dispute is pending before the Hawai'i Supreme Court. These so-called "disputed revenues" include payment for use of a portion of the land under Hilo Hospital and University of Hawai'i-Manoa, airport landing fees, concession fees, and the state's share of revenues from DFS Hawai'i, the state's duty-free store contractor.

After the House Hawaiian Affairs Committee heard testimony yesterday, its chairman, Scott Saiki, D-22nd, (McCully, Pawa'a), the matter would be taken up again Feb. 22. At that time, the committee likely will vote out a bill that would approve at least the language of a partial settlement. Saiki said no decision has been made by his committee on whether to agree to the proposal's dollar figures.

"I think we will take a look at the numbers to see if they will check out," Saiki said.

Not everyone at yesterday's hearing was pleased at the planned settlement.

Chief Maui Loa, head of Hou Lahuiohana of native Hawaiians of the Blood, described OHA as an unnecessary state agency and maintained that ceded land revenues should be distributed directly to Hawaiians with at least 50 percent Hawaiian blood.

Reach Gordon Y.K. Pang at gpang@honoluluadvertiser.com.