Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Big pig in the Capitol

Some folks think there are a lot of big pigs in the state Capitol. This morning, there was at least one.

The plump pink porker was brought on scene to bring attention to the latest study by the Grassroot Institute. The porcine pal wasn’t an actual oinker, but an anonymous person in a pink pig suit.

The 2009 Hawaii Pork Report is the conservative Hawaii-based advocacy group’s first attempt to put a dollar sign on what it sees as wasteful government spending.

The group worked with the Washington D.C.-based Citizens Against Government Waste, which has produced “piglet books” on about a dozen states in addition to its Congressional Pig Book.

“The 2009 Hawaii Pork Report is the first step in bringing fiscal sanity to the Aloha State," David Williams, Citizens Against Government Waste vice president for policy, said in a statement. “With an economic downturn it's important for government to get rid of unnecessary and ridiculous programs and evaluate those essential programs making government more efficient. Before taxpayers are asked for one more dime of their hard earned money, state and local governments need to rebuild the trust they've lost.”

Spending by state and local governments is under the microscope in Hawaii because of a projected $1.8 billion revenue shortfall over the current two-year budget cycle. Government officials will probably have plenty to say about this study, but hadn’t commented by press time.

“The only thing more shocking than the sheer amount of waste is the degree to which government officials will go to hide that waste,” Pearl Hahn, Grassroot Institute policy analyst and lead author of the study said in a statement. “This report gives dozens of examples of abuse of taxpayer dollars—but there are hundreds, if not thousands, more examples waiting to be found.”

Some examples from the report:

  • Between August 2005 and June 2008, the City and County of Honolulu spent $2.6 million in advertising to promote the 20-mile elevated rail transit project.
  • The City and County of Honolulu’s Handi-Van cost taxpayers $23.2 million in FY2007. Fares covered only 22 percent of the total operating costs of $24.8 million. In 2007, the average 5.7 mile one-way trip cost approximately $16.47 per passenger and required 24-hour notice. By comparison, a one-way passenger cab ride costs $13.68 and requires a mere five to 10 minutes notice.
  • The state Department of Agriculture spent $15,954.55 per Varroa mite on bees so far. Through 2007, more than $4 million in federal, state and county funds have been allocated to fight coqui frog infestation, but the population continues to grow.
  • The Child Support Enforcement Agency with the Office of the Attorney General has spent more than $3.5 million in state and federal but Hawaii ranks last in the
  • nation in collecting delinquent child support, with more than $500 million in payments outstanding.
  • The Department of Education spends $3.2 million per year to fund Hawaiian education programs where most of the employed kupuna cannot speak Hawaiian.48
  • The DOE budget grew from $972 million in FY 99-00 to $2.4 billion in FY 08-09, a 147-percent increase. Yet over this time period, Hawaii public school enrollment and test scores have decreased. Taxpayers are currently spending $14,000 per student in government schools—exceeding the tuition at elite private institutions such as Island Pacific Academy and Saint Louis School.
  • In all, the state is spending more than $1.5 million to restore the glass mosaic in the Capitol rotunda.
  • In June 2008, more than 600 state educators went on a taxpayer-funded trip to Orlando, Fla., at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort for the Model Schools Conference held by the International Center for Leadership in Education. The schools paid for airfare costs and provided the teachers with a $145 per diem stipend. In all, they spent $1.6 million.
  • The purpose of one state employee’s trip in October 2007 was for a “Hollywood Reporter/Hawaii TV Production Event” in Los Angeles. On top of a $600 airfare, the hotel stay was $385, car and taxi costs were $138 (not including $15 in gas and $84 in parking) and the per diem was $398.75 for a trip was for only one night.
  • Another employee, traveling to Los Angeles to attend the Grammy Awards in February 2008, racked up a hotel bill of $1,716. She also spent $382 on ground transportation and $150 for the Grammy ticket.