Friday, April 17, 2009

Raid on Elections Fund?

Another last minute maneuver may be underway that could derail Hawai'i County's pilot publicly-funded elections program. The program, passed last year by the state legislature, is designed to ensure that county council candidates who could gather enough signatures and five dollar donations from their constituents could get matching money to counter an opponent who had lots of special interest money. The matching funds were supposed to come from the interest on the state's Campaign Elections Fund, which is running a healthy surplus right now.
Yesterday I got an e-mail alert from Kory Payne of Voter-Owned Hawaii, which had pushed for the original program. It said that House Bill 39, which originally had been about placing a $5 surcharge on various state-collected fees had been gutted and rewritten as a bill to let the state borrow the interest from various special funds--including, presumably the Elections Fund, which is supplied from voluntary donations by taxpayers who check a box on their tax returns for that specific purpose.
The Voter-Owned Elections release explained one possible ramification:
Because Act 244 contains a section that says there must be $3.5 million on September 1 before each election year, citizen advocates believed legislators might try to raid the Hawaii Election Campaign Fund to bring it below that $3.5 million threshold. House bill 39 is now waiting to be scheduled for a final “conference committee” at which both house and senate members will try come to a resolution on the matter.

I pulled up the bill's various versions at, the state legislature's Web site.
Here's the complete text of the latest version:
Section 1. The purpose of this Act is to effectuate the title of this Act. SECTION 2. The Hawaii Revised Statutes is amended to conform to the purpose of this Act. SECTION 3. This Act shall take effect upon its approval. INTRODUCED BY: _____________________________

In other words, we don't know what the heck is actually going to go into this bill at this time. But we do know that it's no longer about adding surcharges to various state fees. That language really was deleted.

The bill was amended by the Senate to its current gutted form on April 14--enabling the Senate, perhaps, to say that it had hadn't supported a tax increase, just in time for Tea Party Day--and the amended version was returned to the House, which notified the Senate today, April 17, that the House disagreed with the amendment .

Here's Voter-owned Hawaii's take on what happens next:

Payne believes the decision on how much money to take from the election fund rests in the hands of house and senate leadership. “At the end of the day, the two most powerful politicians in the Capitol decide what to do on issues of large public concern. Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, along with Senator Donna Kim, as well as House Speaker Calvin Say, will have the final say on the matter.” House bill 39 will be decided sometime between now and the final decking deadline on May 1.

For those who wish to make their voices heard on what fills in the blanks, here are Hanabusa's and Say's contact info:

Sen. Colleen Hanabusa
21st Senatorial District
Hawaii State Capitol, Room 409
415 South Beretania Street
Honolulu, HI 96813
Phone 808-586-7793; Fax 808-586-7797

Rep. Calvin Say
20th Representative District
Hawaii State Capitol, Room 431
415 South Beretania Street
Honolulu, HI 96813
phone 808-586-6100; fax 808-586-6101

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