By Trustee Rowena Akana
February 8, 1997
A chaotic assault on Native Hawaiian entitlements got underway during the first week of the 1997 legislature. First, we heard the House Committee on Hawaiian Affairs take a swat at OHA’s submission for general funds, our only source of assistance for Hawaiians who do not meet the legislatively imposed fifty-percent blood quantum. Then we saw the House judiciary committee Chair Terrence Tom bully out of committee a Constitutional Convention, structured to give our legislators summer jobs gutting Native Hawaiian entitlements in 1998. On top of that, there is a measure afoot to repeal the statute that allows us access to justice and lets us sue the State when it fails to comply with its trust obligation to Hawaiians.
Clearly, many of our lawmakers have bought into the Governor’s public relations blitz targeting Hawaiians as Public Enemy Number One. While the same old cronyism and mismanagement–woes he vowed to fix–continue, the Governor is trying to shift the blame for the State’s cloudy fiscal future to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. Some very smart people are following his camera when they should be focusing elsewhere.
So that we are all on the same page, I’ll set out the numbers again. The State gets 80 percent of ceded land revenues, or the lion’s share of land leases and rents. Until OHA took the State to court and won a determination to the contrary, the State was assured of ALL of the “sovereign” income from the big-ticket tenants such as the airport, Duty Free Shops, the University of Hawaii, etc. In addition, it collects revenues via the highest income tax in the United States, the most inequitable and pervasive general excise tax and other sources of funding extracted from its citizens, including Hawaiians. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs gets 20 percent of the income from ceded land leases and rents. Period. While Circuit Court Judge Dan Heely determined that OHA should be getting a percentage of “sovereign” income too, OHA has never received any. In an attempt to make sure we never do, the State is appealing Judge Heely’s decision. Currently Cayetano & Co. are floating the rumor that a hired gun from the Mainland will replace their consistently losing team from the Attorney General’s Office. In case this suit is, once again, decided on the merits, there is a bill in the hopper, drafted last year and brought back from the dead by Representatives Calvin Say and Nathan Suzuki, the Governor’s bag men in the House, excluding “sovereign” income from the ceded lands formula.
All this leads to the conclusion that the State is following the federal example in reneging on its treaties with Native people. Sadly, it has successfully stirred up public resentment so that the betrayal appears justified. A recent Honolulu Star Bulletin article called for OHA’s revenue percentage to be reduced, and I would not be surprised to see a bill proposing such a reduction this session. The State has not told the public that the 20 percent figure represents a compromise by OHA, the legislature, and the Governor, ratified by the voters in 1978. What would prevent the State from claiming a new, lower figure is still too much? Clearly, Hawaiians cannot have any confidence in the State even when it commits its word to law.
And there is an even bigger shibai going on, one affecting Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians alike. Whether the legislature chews up Hawaiian entitlements piecemeal during this session or swallows them whole during a Constitutional Convention, the financial bottom line will not change. Considering the entire State budget, the annual sum owed OHA based on 20 percent is very small, hovering around one percent. Paying it in full and on time should not bankrupt a fiscally responsible State. On the other hand, eliminating the payment won’t be the solution to poor management. The real bottom line here is that no one should trust the State’s representations when it comes to Hawaiian entitlements. The non-Hawaiian public should realize that Hawaiians are sharing 80 percent of our trust with them. To take more from us than we are already giving would be unconscionable.