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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, March 20, 2010

Lingle slams bill restricting governor's powers

By Herbert A. Sample
Associated Press

Gov. Linda Lingle yesterday criticized a legislative proposal that she contends would strip future governors of the power to unilaterally curtail spending or to establish new programs.

The measure would set up a clash between her successors and the Legislature over who has the final say over spending decisions, even in years when the state's budget picture is faltering, Lingle said during a speech to the Pearlridge Rotary Club.

Using the past two years as examples, the governor said the legislation, were it law, would have prevented her from cutting spending to match declining revenues.

"Had I spent everything that (legislators) had appropriated previously, we would be hundreds of millions of dollars additional in the hole," Lingle said.

The bill, SB 2007, is sponsored by Senate President Colleen Hanabusa. It is under consideration by the House Finance Committee.

Hanabusa was unavailable for comment.

But the chairwoman of the Senate Ways and Means committee, Donna Mercado Kim, D-14th (Hālawa, Moanalua, Kamehameha Heights), said there should be some limits on a governor's powers to curtail spending.

"While the administration should have adequate discretion to restrict funds in certain emergency situations, this discretion should not allow the administration to dictate a legislative agenda from a distinct and separate branch of state government," Kim wrote after the measure passed her panel.

Howard S. Garval, who heads the nonprofit group Child & Family Service, asserted that Lingle has used her powers in ways harmful to human service programs.

For several years, "the Legislature has appropriated funds for a variety of programs and capital needs, only to have the administration either refusing to release these or completely disregarding the Legislature's appropriation and moving the funds somewhere else," Garval said in testimony at a committee hearing Monday.

The attorney general's office contended the bill is an unconstitutional violation of the separation of powers of the legislative and executive branches of government.

"We believe that this provision infringes on the governor's authority to administer the budget because discretion over state spending is a fundamental power of the executive branch," the agency said in testimony.

During her speech yesterday, Lingle also decried measures to raise the state's general excise and oil taxes, saying they will force wealthy Hawai'i residents to flee the state and cause businesses to cut back or fold.

Hawai'i must reduce its spending on labor and on health services to the poor, which account for 85 percent of the state's $4.5 billion general-fund spending, she said.

"Every idea that we have had to bring our expenses in alignment, the Legislature doesn't want to do it," she added.

"If we don't take the difficult steps now, we will be in a horrible situation."