Getting nowhere at the ’06 legislature


Source: May 2006 Ka Wai Ola o OHA Column

`Ano`ai kakou…  Those of you who have tried to get a bill passed at the state legislature know that it can be an exercise in pure frustration.  You can spend years explaining the facts to legislators and still get absolutely nowhere.  Although the legislative process is supposed to give all ideas a fair shot at getting passed, the brutal truth is that all it takes is one committee chair to ruin years of hard work.

For the past three years, OHA has been lobbying to pass a bill (currently Senate Bill 916) which would allow trustees with at least five years of service with the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) to buy-back credit for their prior service.  SB 916 is just a housekeeping measure that would correct an oversight in a previous bill passed in 2002.  In my opinion, there shouldn’t be a single reason why the bill shouldn’t pass.  Unfortunately, for the past three years, the ERS board, through its Administrator, has lobbied the House not to pass the bill.  For this reason, the House Hawaiian Affairs Committee Chair, Representative Scott Saiki, refused to even give the bill a hearing. 

This highlights a major flaw in our legislative system.  Obviously, the legislature should not and could not hear all 4,000+ bills that are introduced year-after-year.  However, SB 916 is not a new bill and OHA has been working hard to educate members of the House and Senate about it for the past three years.  The Senate finally agreed that the bill is a good one and sent it over to the House for consideration – and Rep. Saiki promptly ignored it until it missed a deadline and died again in his committee.

It is the height of arrogance for a State Representative to disregard years of hard work by OHA trustees and staff to get the bill passed.  Not to mention the unfairness of not allowing trustees the opportunity to buy-back the years of service when OHA was not part of the state retirement system.  He could have at least given us the courtesy of a straight answer on why he didn’t want to hear the bill, but that’s the problem with politicians nowadays.  They lack courage to state their positions publicly.  Instead of concentrating on doing what is right, they worry about their poll numbers.  I would have respected this Representative more if he’d given the bill a proper hearing and then publicly explained, for the record, why he doesn’t support it.  At least we would have some direction as to how to address his concerns.

One possible explanation for Rep. Saiki’s negative position on the bill is that he mistakenly thinks that it will cost the state money – money they can’t afford.  According to Veryan Allen’s special to the Star-Bulletin (March 5, 2006), “The ERS receives and pays for poor ‘advice’ from a conflicted, mainland consultant that appears to lack the expertise to add value to an institutional portfolio in today’s investment environment.  Back in 1999, ERS assets were $9.7 billion and today they are just $9.6 billion, despite growing liabilities and regular capital contributions, possibly exposing Hawaii taxpayers to having to fund the over $3 billion that is unfunded, according to the most recent ERS financial report.  In six years, a competently advised, properly diversified portfolio should nearly double in asset size.” 

For the record, SB 916 wouldn’t cost the state anything.  The cost for our pension is paid for out of our own pockets and the employer match is paid for by OHA. 

The only way to combat unilateral decisions made by our lawmakers is for all of us to be active and participate in the process.  We need to have the courage to stand up against the abuse of power given to elected officials.  Imua e Hawai’i nei…