By: Pat Omandam
January 22, 2002
Source: Star Bulletin
The Office lost millions of dollars in revenue from ceded lands.
If ever the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs needed the kokua of the state Legislature, this is the year.
With no annual revenue from ceded or public trust lands and a legal opinion barring it from distributing any grants, OHA needs a legislative fix for these problems if it wants to fully help Hawaiians.
“I think that the legislators that we’ve talked to have a good sense of where everything is, and I think they’d like to resolve some of these issues,” said OHA Vice Chairwoman Rowena Akana, head of OHA’s legislative committee.
“I look to them to be fair in resolving these very critical issues,” she said. “After all, OHA has been around 20 years. It’s not as if you can swipe us up in one fell swoop.”
At the top of OHA’s legislative package is a way to address a Hawaii Supreme Court ruling Sept. 12 that struck down a state law giving OHA 20 percent of ceded-land revenues collected by the state. The court did not question using ceded-land revenue to better conditions of native Hawaiians but pointed out that particular law had a disclaimer that declared it void if it conflicted with federal law.
The justices said it conflicted with a federal law governing state airport revenue, and ruled the state Legislature must come up with a new law to pay OHA ceded-land revenues.
Akana said the loss of millions of dollars in annual revenue from the state has forced the OHA board to reassess programs and look for ways to downsize so it can preserve its $300 million native trust, the only source of income it has right now.
Despite a state budget shortfall of $330 million this fiscal year, trustees have submitted a bill asking for an interim ceded-land revenue payment of $17 million next year. State Rep. Ezra Kanoho (D, Lihue), a member of the legislative Hawaiian caucus, said Hawaiian lawmakers believe the money is warranted and will work to get it passed this legislative session.
“I think it’s recognized that OHA is due something, and it would be politically correct to come up with a figure,” he said yesterday.
“If not $17 million, particularly in this very difficult financial times, we’ll try to come up with something. What that something is, I’m not sure,” Kanoho said.
Meanwhile, OHA also seeks a waiver from the state procurement laws. A Sept. 25 opinion from the state Attorney General’s Office advised trustees not to release any further grants because those expenditures did not go through the state procurement code’s competitive bid process and therefore may be illegal.
OHA’s grant-making authority was questioned by the state Procurement Office in December 2000 and by state Auditor Marion Higa in April 2001.
As a result, OHA was forced to hold $800,000 in grants last year, which included money to Alu Like Inc. and the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp.
And the wait continues.
“Literally, we can’t give out money away,” Akana said. “It’s so ridiculous.”
OHA trustees also seek legislation so they can join the state Employees’ Retirement System, something they have pushed for several years. The U.S. Supreme Court’s February 2000 decision in the Rice vs. Cayetano case ruled that OHA was a state agency, so trustees can use that to argue it should be allowed to join the ERS.