Federal funds for Kaua’i might be scarce

United States Rep. Ed Case, D-Neighbor Islands-rural O’ahu, said he is going to roll up his sleeves again to fight the rising national debt and strive to continue to bring federal funds to support efforts by Kaua’i leaders to halt the use and sale of drugs on the island.

During a visit to Kaua’i Wednesday, Case, who is up for re-election this year, also gave assurances that matching federal funds will be generally available for transportation projects to relieve long-standing traffic congestion in East and West Kaua’i.

Escorted by his liaison on Kaua’i, Dean Toyofuku, Case met on Wednesday with county officials, including Kaua’i County Council members and Gary Heu, administrative assistance to Mayor Bryan J. Baptiste, for a talk on the availability of matching federal funds for Kaua’i projects.

Heu stepped in on behalf of Baptiste, who is visiting the Philippine Islands with Gov. Linda Lingle and a 175-member entourage to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the first Filipinos to Hawai’i in 1906 and their contributions to Hawai’i.

In his meeting with Kaua’i government leaders, Case said he told them that they should not expect a lot of federal funding for county projects or programs due to federal budget constraints and different priorities between members of Congress and President Bush.

“What I communicated to them from my side was that the federal budget deteriorates very rapidly through, basically, I believe, a mismanagement of our federal finances,” Case told The Garden Island.

That state of affairs, he contends, was recently affirmed by a request from the “U.S Secretary of the Treasury (John Snow) for Congress to authorize another increase in the federal debt ceiling of $1 trillion dollars, which will be the fourth debt, think, increase since I got into office just three years ago.

“When I got into office, it was $6 trillion, and now it is $8 trillion,” Case said. “The president wants to go to $9 trillion. That is obviously telling you something is wrong.”

Although funding for defense and transportation projects will not be affected because funding for such projects was approved by members of Congress and Bush last year, the fallout from the increase in the federal debt ceiling will be that there will be less federal funding to state and county governments in Hawai’i for other projects and programs, Case said.

Government-supported social-service, healthcare, housing, education, law-enforcement, conservation and agriculture programs nationwide could be hurt, Case said.

“What I told (government leaders on Kaua’i) is when you are doing your budget, be real conservative on anything that is dependent on federal funds, either directly or indirectly, from the state to the counties,” Case said.

Transportation projects will likely get the go-ahead, Case said, because “transportation is among the top issues in my district,” and, because “Congress and the president passed last year a five-year re-authorization bill.”

That legislation authorizes the expenditure of some $900 million for transportation projects in Hawai’i, he said.

Some of the funds have been designated by members of Congress for specific projects in Hawai’i, he said.

What funds are not specified will go to Gov. Linda Lingle, who will allocate the funds on the basis of timing and the types of projects that are to be undertaken, said Case.

Kaua’i County officials are likely to get funding for designated traffic-relief projects, Case said, and unallocated funds also could come to Kaua’i County due to the close ties between Baptiste and Lingle, both Republicans along with Bush, Case indicated.

But even with the $900 million in federal funds available, there won’t be enough funds for all traffic-improvement projects in his congressional district, Case said.

“There are clearly transportation needs in the state that exceed the federal-funding contribution,” Case said. “So it is clear that even with the $900 million and state contributions, we can’t fund every transportation project in Hawai’i.”

Case said if he had his way, he would have all the projects funded. “Every county has a transportation priority that is legitimate,” Case said.

On another federal-funding issue, Case said sustained federal funding to fight the use and sale of crystal methamphetamine, also known as ice, could be an iffy proposition in the future.

Funds are available now mostly because of the political clout of U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawai’i, and because of initial public demands nation-wide to control the use of the drug, Case said.

“Sen. Inouye also deserves credit for designating in the congressional process an increase in money to fight ice, especially in Hawai’i,” Case said. “But that is not a 10- 20-year proposition. That is a Sen. Inouye-created situation.”

The funds might not be there in the long run because the Bush administration doesn’t view as a priority the development or enhancement of anti-drug programs.

“They simply do not place federal assistance to state and local law-enforcement, whether it be for ice or whether it be, for community-orienting policing,” Case said.

Budget constraints also are an issue, “so there won’t be flexibility over the next five years,” Case said.

Baptiste has established the war on drugs as one of the top priorities of members of his administration, and has relied on matching federal funds for programs to halt drug use on Kaua’i, and to set up rehabilitation programs.

More could be done to help Kaua’i and other rural communities in Hawai’i that have been hit hard by drug use, Case believes.

But getting the funding to effectively fight drug use in Hawai’i would require a change of heart on the part of Bush administration leaders, Case believes.

“It would be nice if we weren’t fighting the administration on this,” Case said. “We could get a lot more done.”

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