Ige: $23M for Home Lands

HONOLULU — Gov. David Ige is proposing to almost double the Department of Hawaiian Home Land’s administration and operation budget for the next two fiscal years.

Ige’s plan is to replace DHHL’s $9.63 million in general fund appropriations with $17.4 million in general funds for FY16 — which ends June 30.

For FY17, Ige is proposing $17.8 million in general funds, with benefits of $5.7 million, totaling $23.5 million for the department.

“Everyone knows that there are good people working at DHHL, but the agency itself has been a poor performer,” said Robin Danner, vice president of the Anahola Hawaiian Homes Association and chairwoman of the Sovereign Council of Hawaiian Home Lands Associations. “We are ready to work with the governor (and) with DHHL to ramp this agency up to be much better stewards of these kinds of dollars.”

KipuKai Kuali’i, Kauai Councilman and president of Anahola Hawaiian Homes Association, said he thinks the proposed budget appropriations fall short of the $28 million judgment and that in his opinion, DHHL is on a “path of continued failure to inevitably waste more of our trust funds.”

He cited long waiting lists, failure to incorporate “sound budget recommendations from homestead leaders of the Sovereign Council of the Hawaiian Homelands Assembly,” and not investing in statewide homestead beneficiary groups as examples of how DHHL is failing in its task.

“This $17 million, or even $28 million, won’t begin to make a real difference for native Hawaiian trust beneficiaries until we begin fully honoring and implementing the wishes of our beloved Prince Kuhio,” Kuali’i said. “(He) knew what he was doing when he designated “mercantile” as another form of land use award to beneficiaries — leveraging the land to rehabilitate our people.”

Ige pointed out the proposed budget increase is “not a settlement for the Nelson case,” which is an ongoing suit against the state of Hawaii for failing to sufficiently fund the DHHL as mandated by the Hawaii Constitution.

In November, First Circuit Judge Jeannette Castagnetti ruled in the Nelson v. Hawaiian Homes Commission case, that the state must fulfill its constitutional duty to make sufficient funding available to the department for administration and operation expenses.

In March, Castagnetti said there is “substantial evidence” in the court’s findings that sufficient means at least $28 million.

“The litigation is continuing, but in the meantime there is a budget process that must be followed,” attorney general Doug Chin said.

Kauai Rep. Dee Morikawa, D-Waimea, said the appropriation, if it clears the Legislature, will allow DHHL to hire more staff on a permanent basis, instead of temporary exempt positions.

“More qualified professional employees will be able to get better direction on actually building more homes for beneficiaries,” Morikawa said. “District 16 has a lot of state lands that can be developed for Hawaiian homes, and I hope that this funding will help to make that happen.”

Rep. Derek Kawakami, D-Wailua, said he’s pleased with the commitment from both the Legislature and the Governor’s Office to support DHHL.

The Department of Hawaiian Home Lands awards 99-year land leases to Hawaiians for $1 a year. There were more than 27,600 people on a waiting list for those land leases last year.

“Anahola is the heart of the 14th District and we are confident that this appropriation will go a long way in putting more Hawaiians on the Hawaiian Home Lands,” Kawakami said. “There are too many people who have waited too long for their opportunity.”

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Jessica Else, environmental reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or jelse@thegardenisland.com.

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