School repair fund raided to help pay for Hawaii special election
By Paul C. Curtis
The Garden Island
PUHI, Kauai — The special election to fill the U.S. Congress seat vacated by Neil Abercrombie as he prepares to run for governor has nothing to do with Kaua‘i because that congressional district doesn’t include Neighbor Islands, right?
Governor Linda Lingle authorized the transfer of $389,481 from the Neighbor Island public schools repair and maintenance account into an account to help fund the special election.
That move concerns state Rep. Jimmy Tokioka, D-Wailua-Lihu‘e-Koloa, he said Wednesday at the groundbreaking ceremonies for the project to make Kaumuali‘i Highway four lanes from Lihu‘e to Puhi.
Tokioka said Lingle didn’t want to have to ask the state Legislature for funds for the special election, so went the route of reducing restrictions imposed on various programs in the state Department of Accounting and General Services (DAGS) instead.
Among the several functions of DAGS is public school repair and maintenance for the state Department of Education, and running elections, as the state Office of Elections is administratively attached to DAGS as well.
In a Feb. 24 letter to Russ K. Saito, DAGS comptroller, Lingle used her authority to reduce restrictions by $389,481 for Neighbor Island school repair and maintenance, and by $113,346 for the Office of Elections, to help pay for the special election.
She also authorized in the letter moving that $389,481 into the Office of Elections account.
The state Legislature likes money appropriated to be spent on what it’s appropriated for, said Saito, adding that state law allows Lingle to move no more than 10 percent of specific appropriated funds for other purposes.
Saito wanted to make it clear that DAGS is obligated to perform repair and maintenance functions at public schools through an agreement with DOE, and that the $389,481 moved for the special election won’t impact any Neighbor Island school repair and maintenance projects.
Savings will be made by keeping vacant positions vacant, or other means, he said.
“We perform our function” for DOE. “We are fulfilling our obligations,” Saito said Friday.
In these days of budget deficits, shortfalls and a sagging economy, there is a DAGS budget for X amount of dollars, and Lingle-imposed restrictions for Y amount of dollars, meaning that, even though the DAGS budget might be, say, around $145 million (the DAGS fiscal year 2009 operating budget), Lingle has mandated restrictions that DAGS can’t spend anywhere near that amount, Saito explained.
The money for the special election, said Russell Pang, Lingle’s chief of media relations, has to come from DAGS (where the Office of Elections is administratively located).
Pang reiterated Saito’s assurances that Neighbor Island school repair and maintenance projects won’t be affected by the money move.
Regarding the special election, Tokioka said a bill moving through the state Legislature would push the election back from May 22 to Aug. 14, in order to allow enough time to receive mailed ballots from overseas for those living in Abercrombie’s former district but living or serving in the armed forces abroad.
The 1st Congressional District includes the southernmost portions of O‘ahu, roughly from Waipahu to Waimanalo.
The district is generally known as “urban O‘ahu.”
Tokioka said the change in election date would impact just 42 days of the current federal congressional session. Abercrombie’s term was scheduled to have ended in January 2011.
According to a Feb. 8 opinion from Russell A. Suzuki, state deputy attorney general, it would likely be in violation of the U.S. Constitution to delay the special election much if at all past the May 22 date.
The special election is to be conducted via mail-in ballots only.
Other money matters
Tokioka said he had been told by state House Speaker Calvin Say and House Finance Committee Chairman Marcus Oshiro that if Tokioka wanted the hotel-room tax (transient accommodations tax, or TAT) shares to continue going to the counties, Tokioka needed to work to find around $1 million needed for the special election.
The House version of the state budget, which has moved to the state Senate for consideration, includes funds for agricultural inspectors and keeping open Maui and Kaua‘i offices of state Department of Human Services.
“We want to make sure there’s a presence on Kaua‘i, certainly,” he said of DHS offices scheduled to be closed as early as July 1 in state cost-cutting measures.
“To me, personally, the ag inspectors were very important,” to keep invasive species out of the state and individual counties, said Tokioka.
“My focus has been involved in balancing the budget,” he said.
“Getting the kids back in school on furlough Fridays” is extremely important as well, he said.