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Thursday, April 9, 2015
HB500: Hawaii Legislators Vote on Secret Budget
By Sen. Sam Slom @ 10:23 PM :: 4770 Views :: Ethics, Hawaii State Government

HAWAII LEGISLATORS VOTE ON THE BUDGET WITHOUT KNOWING WHAT IS IN IT

News Release from Office of Sen Sam Slom April 9, 2015

HONOLULU— The Hawaii Legislature maintains a practice to vote on a $23 Billion budget without legislators knowing the particulars.  Recently, on March 18, 2015, the Hawaii House of Representatives voted on HB500 HD1 (HB500_HD1[1]).   At the time, most legislators had not been provided the budget worksheets so they had limited knowledge of where the House finance committee had cut or increased state programs.  The budget worksheets, detailing the program cuts and increases were released after the third reading vote, on the night of March 18, 2015.  (See House Budget Worksheets[2])          

Senator Sam Slom is concerned about this practice and said today,

"It is another example of our state failing to be transparent.  It is appalling that members of the legislature are voting on the State Budget and they don't know what is in it.  A few keep the power through knowledge of the details and the rest of the members are expected to follow blindly.  This is the opposite of transparency.  This is an example of our state government excluding Hawaii taxpayers from the decision making process."

Hawaii Revised Statutes §37-65 provides for the governing principles of the state budget.  This law states that the budget shall be governed by the following principles, including, but not limited to:

"(1) Planning, programming, budgeting, evaluation, appraisal and reporting shall be by program or groups of programs.

"(2) The state program structure shall be such as will enable meaningful decisions to be made by the governor and legislature at all levels of the structure.  At its lowest level, it shall display those programs which are the simplest units of activities, about which resource allocation decisions are to be made by the governor and the legislature."

Senator Slom followed up, stating,

"I do not believe the governing principles of the budgeting process are being followed by our Legislature.  It should not be a partisan issue.  In order to make meaningful decisions, each legislator should know the details of where the state intends to spend the tax dollars, and where the state cuts programs and positions.  I think it is time for the Legislature to include the people in decisions and let the people know, before a third reading vote on the floor, what the people's tax money is going to be spent on over the next two years.  That way, the people of Hawaii retain their constitutional power and have a say in their government."

House standing committee report 911 (HCSR911[3]) stated only the following on the contents of HB500 HD1:

"Your Committee on Finance has amended this budget to appropriate:

FY 2016 FY 2017

General Funds                                  $6,503,532,599                  $6,786,347,598

All Means of Financing                   $12,660,768,592                $13,121,907,502"

The HB500 HD1 shows only the aggregate dollar amounts.

After the third reading vote on March 18, the budget is now in the Senate.  The Ways and Means committee sat last Sunday, March 29, 2015.  No staff, other than the Ways and Means staff and the committee members, were permitted into the meeting this year.  No committee member is permitted to remove the budget worksheets from the meeting.  To date, SD1 has not been released and it is expected that it will be decked along with a bulk filing deadline of bills later this week.  Senator Slom added,

"It is also expected that the budget worksheets will not be released until after the vote on the Senate draft of the budget, unless the people of Hawaii start demanding otherwise."

Details of the differences between the state budgets can be found at the Hawaii Open Budget Initiative website at www.hawaiiopenbudget.com, a non-partisan financial and budget data website.

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