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BOE's future among amendment issues

By B.J. Reyes

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 02:00 a.m. HST, Oct 17, 2010


The future of the elected state Board of Education is one of two state constitutional amendments Hawaii voters will be asked to decide in this year's election.

At the county level, establishing a semiautonomous public transit authority responsible for oversight of a fixed guideway mass transit system is among the issues before Oahu voters, along with a proposal to establish an Office of Housing directly under the mayor.

Statewide, the Board of Education question was among the most debated at the Legislature as lawmakers sought answers and accountability in the aftermath of Furlough Fridays for public school students.

The question: "Shall the Board of Education be changed to a board appointed by the Governor, with the advice and consent of the Senate, as provided by law?" could fundamentally change the statewide school board, which sets education policy and has been elected by voters since 1964.

Gov. Linda Lingle unsuccessfully fought for a constitutional amendment to give the governor power to appoint the schools superintendent, believing that authority would make the governor more accountable for education. But she also favors an appointed school board.

Lawmakers ultimately settled on an amendment approving an advice and consent process similar to the way the governor appoints members to the University of Hawaii Board of Regents.

Statewide, voters also will decide how the Legislature should spend surplus money if general fund revenues exceed 5 percent growth in two successive fiscal years.

In good economic times, lawmakers would be given the choice of providing taxpayers with a refund or credit — as mandated now — or depositing excess revenue into various state funds to supplement the state's general fund in times of emergency or severe economic downturn.

On Oahu, the public transit authority would be responsible for planning, construction, operation, maintenance and expansion of the city's fixed guideway system. The authority would have nine voting members with the ability to enter into contracts, acquire property and promote transit-oriented development.

The vote on the Office of Housing — to tackle homelessness and affordablehousing issues — would re-establish an agency that was eliminated by voters in 1998 as part of a government streamlining reorganization initiated by former Mayor Jeremy Harris in the wake of the Ewa Villages scandal.

Honolulu voters will decide a total of six Charter amendments on Nov. 2.

Maui voters have three charter amendments before them, including whether 2 percent of real property tax revenues from fiscal years 2008 to 2015 should be placed in an affordable housing fund.

Among the seven charter amendments being put to Kauai voters is one to double Council members' terms to four years with a limit of two consecutive terms.

Big Island voters face 19 Charter amendment questions, including proposals to reduce the number of signatures required for recall petitions of elected officials and increase the time allowed for gathering signatures, as well as measures aimed at natural resource preservation.

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