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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, June 4, 2010

Real leaders find a way to pay debts

That $200 million debt isn't going away. And for anyone who's forgotten about the state I.O.U. slip the Office of Hawaiian Affairs has been holding for years, OHA has gone to court to remind them.

In its petition, the agency wants the state Supreme Court to force the Legislature to allot that much money for OHA. The claim is meant to settle what it's owed for revenue the state collected on ceded lands properties owned by the Hawaiian government before the overthrow. The settlement was a good deal for the state and quieted much of the anxiety surrounding ceded lands claims. The principle that a share of the revenue is meant to benefit Native Hawaiians is enshrined in law.

The attorney general said that there's no way the court can compel lawmakers to act, so this suit technically won't have much chance of success. But it's the state that should feel ashamed that OHA was pushed to such a tactic.

Governors and legislators say they're willing to pay, they're just a little short. Lawmakers begged for the patience of Hawaiians again this session as they tried to fill a billion-dollar budget hole.

Now that the economy and tax revenues are recovering, it's time for serious talk about paying OHA what it's owed. The state won't have that much cash lying around for a while, of course, but certainly there could be a plan for paying it off over time.

Getting the state budget on firm footing should be a top issue in this campaign, and all of the gubernatorial candidates should have a specific strategy for paying OHA what it's owed.

The fact that this is still unresolved gives weight to OHA's argument that the Akaka bill will have to pass and Native Hawaiians given nation-within-a-nation status to get the attention they deserve.