By Trustee Rowena Akana
February 10, 1996
Source Star Bulletin Viewpoint
A wide variety of legal principles and historical events cloud the state’s title as trustee of Hawaiian ceded lands. Even if, purely for the sake of argument, the state were to hold clear title to these lands, countless examples showing a breach of trust responsibilities can be found. These issues, pending court cases, and the future status of ceded lands in a Hawaiian sovereign entity, have yet to be settled. Until then, the state has no right to add another chapter to the long, sad history of Hawaiian land alienation.
Gov. Ben Cayetano has made it clear that he considers Hawaiian entitlements a burden on the state treasury. While ceded land revenues are a mere drop in the bucket in the overall state budget, these revenues are certainly not his to touch in any event. Hawaiians have a right to these revenues, as affirmed and reaffirmed by a variety of laws and legal instruments.
Although it is often stated that we receive 20 percent of state income from ceded lands, our agreement with the state actually gives us much less. Imagine not one but two pools of ceded land revenues — sovereign income and proprietary income. Sovereign income includes the big ticket items like airport landing fees, Duty Free Shop income, income generated by the University of Hawaii, etc. The state holds onto all of this income; the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and its native Hawaiian beneficiaries don’t get a cent of it.
The second pool, proprietary income, involves a considerably smaller amount of money, drawn from land leases and rents of ceded lands. It is this pool from which OHA draws its 20 percent to service the needs of native Hawaiians, as required by the 1959 Admission Act.
It represents not 20 percent of our Hawaiian entitlements but 10 percent (or less) of these two revenue sources.
The state assumed fiduciary obligation upon being admitted as a state in 1959 and Section 5(f) of the Admission Act stipulated that proceeds from the sale or other disposition of ceded lands would be held by the state as a public trust for the support of betterment of the conditions of native Hawaiians, public schools, agriculture, parks, recreational areas and other lands for public use, and capital improvement projects.
In 1995, Rep. Calvin Say introduced a bill that would have diverted the ceded land revenues of OHA to state capital improvement projects. This would have crippled OHA’s ability to deliver crucial services to the Hawaiian community.
It also would have amounted to double dipping by the state, which already gets 20 percent (the same amount OHA receives) specifically for capital improvement projects. To add insult to injury, Hawaiians already pay their fair share of taxes to pay for such building programs!
Fortunately OHA’s trustees and Hawaiian organizations mobilized quickly and gained the support necessary to kill Say’s bill. Hawaiian entitlements are too vital for us to wait until another crisis situation spurs us to action. Now that the state legislative session is under way, it is in the interest of Hawaiians and Hawaii’s general public not to allow our legislators to take away what little funds OHA and Hawaiians receive.
Say and House Speaker Joe Souki have helped drive our state into the present fiscal fiasco. They try to deflect blame away from themselves with a lot of smoke and hot air. They don’t address the real issues; they invent new ones. They pit Hawaiians against non-Hawaiians by creating an atmosphere of distrust based upon unwarranted fears.
Hawaiians aren’t the only ones at risk here. Every tax-paying citizen of Hawaii will be directly affected by the decisions of lawmakers in 1996. Already there’s talk of increasing our general excise tax. Already there’s talk again of taking away OHA’s funding to pay for capital improvements. Can we allow the state to continue mismanaging our ceded land funds and our hard-earned tax dollars? I think not.
We must protect what little we have, before we all end up like the state — dead broke.