Costs of ConCon under consideration

A special task force has two weeks left to submit its report on the costs of convening a Constitutional Convention in 2010.

It will remain to be seen how voters use the financial data at the polls on Nov. 4 when they decide whether there should be an organized gathering of publicly elected delegates for the purpose of reviewing and putting forth revisions to the existing state constitution.

“Cost is certainly a factor,” state Sen. Gary Hooser, D-Kaua‘i/Ni‘ihau, said in an interview this week. “We will come up with well-researched numbers so people will have a clear and honest understanding of the cost.”

Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona Jr. established a Constitutional Convention Cost Task Force to determine the cost of holding a constitutional convention and examine ways to potentially reduce such costs.

The bi-partisan task force, composed of 11 community and governmental leaders, is expected to submit its report to the public by Aug. 1.

The latest estimate is in the “tens of millions of dollars,” Hooser said.

“Historically, people are less inclined to vote in favor of it when they are told about the high costs,” he said. “People will ask if it’s really worth it. Do we need to spend this money when the economy is going in the wrong direction and the state budget is shrinking?”

Hooser serves on the election subcommittee, which evaluates how much it will cost to elect delegates to a convention, or ConCon as it is also called.

There were 102 delegates who served 30 years ago in the last ConCon.

Several significant accomplishments resulted from the 1978 constitutional convention, including the requirement of an annual balanced budget, the establishment of term limits for the governor, the creation of the Judicial Selection Commission and Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the adoption of the Hawaiian language as an official state language and the creation of the Council on Revenues to forecast how much money the state can spend.

Kevin Cronin, chief elections officer at the state Office of Elections, said the estimated cost of electing convention delegates during a regularly scheduled election is some $500,000. Estimates for scenarios involving special elections range from $2 million to $2.5 million, according to the minutes to the June 28 task force meeting.

There are several variables that affect cost, including office space, meeting rooms, transportation and staff, Hooser said. There is also the length of the ConCon to consider. And cost affects the quality of the ConCon, Hooser said.

“If we want to have a very cheap constitutional convention, we would have maybe only 25 delegates,” Hooser said.

The task force is expecting the convention to last roughly four months. Once delegates are elected, the constitution requires that the convention convene at least five months prior to the next general election.

“Our hope is that a ConCon would begin soon enough to allow for a full and robust discussion on all issues, as well as a period of time to keep the public informed and involved on each proposed amendment being submitted to the electorate,” Aiona states on his Web site.

The legislature will determine the number of delegates to a convention, as well as funding and facilities. A special election could be necessary in order to elect the constitutional delegates.

The costs discussed at the June 28 task force meeting include an estimated $10,000 to $20,000 per site for video conference capabilities.

Also, one of the potential locations for the ConCon, the Kamamalu building, would cost some $31 million to use.

“I personally believe we have a very good constitution and it should be changed only in rare circumstances,” Hooser said. “I don’t see any significant, pressing need that can’t be handled in a proposed constitutional amendment or by the Legislature.”

A lack of affordable housing is not something that amending the constitution would change, he said.

“I think we need to pay our teachers a lot more, but that’s a budget item,” he said. “There’s always multiple perspectives on things.”

Hooser said a ConCon runs the risk of weakening important provisions contained in the current constitution, such as privacy and equal rights, environmental protections, labor rights and native Hawaiian rights.

“Those are all built into the existing constitution … the process could put some of those important protections at risk,” he said. “People will have to decide based on the merits. Cost is one factor.”

The task force’s next meeting is at 9 a.m., Thursday, at Aiona’s office.

• Nathan Eagle, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or neagle@kauaipubco.com

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