Sunday, November 29, 2015         

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Isles lose $321M in earmarks

A spending bill fails in the Senate, leaving airport, pest and storm projects without funds

By Leila Fujimori


A total of 141 projects worth $321 million earmarked for Hawaii was lost yesterday after the U.S. Senate abandoned a $1.3 trillion appropriations bill.

The huge catch all spending measure combining unfinished budget work included $158 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Facing a deadline of midnight tomorrow, when a stopgap funding measure expires, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he would work with Republican leader Mitch McConnell to produce a bill to keep the federal government running into early next year.

The 1,924-page bill collapsed after conservatives complained it was stuffed with more than $8 billion in home-state pet projects.

Among the 141 earmarks was $300,000 for the Polynesian Voyaging Society, which made No. 1 on Sen. John McCain's list of pork-barrel projects he chose to bash Wednesday.

Also cut were:

» $1 million for a runway warning status lights project for Honolulu Airport.

» $1 million for a weather camera installation program.

» $9.084 million for a Navy fire station at West Loch, Pearl Harbor.

McCain's remarks on the Polynesian Voyaging Society became a hot topic of discussion nationally and globally. In response, society Chairman Nainoa Thompson was interviewed on National Public Radio yesterday.


» Varroa mite suppression: $469,000

» Agricultural pest facility: $2.6 million

» Kahuku storm damage reduction: $4.59 million

» Coast Guard Command and Interagency Operations Center: $18.1 million

» University of Hawaii national disaster preparedness training center: $5 million

Thompson told the Star-Advertiser the society and its traditional voyaging canoe, the Hokule'a, has aided the native Hawaiian people to overcome a loss of land, economy, self-determination and hope.

"We were on the path ... to extinction," he said, citing not only Western disease but also banning of the Hawaiian language in schools. The canoe's open ocean voyaging to all parts of Polynesia has helped in the transformation of Hawaiians to bring back that pride once lost.

Sens. Daniel Inouye and Dan Akaka called the earmark important to Hawaii.

"Anyone from Hawaii would recognize it as a valuable organization that perpetuates the culture of Hawaii and also provides educational benefits," said Akaka spokesman Jesse Broder Van Dyke.

Inouye, who heads the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, was not available for comment last night because he was involved in negotiations, said spokesman Peter Boylan.

"That was a disheartening session of the Senate," Boylan said. "Hawaii's working families and the country lost out on a lot of good projects and programs this evening. It's very disappointing that thousands of hours of bipartisan effort collapsed in such a sudden fashion."

But Rep. Charles Djou, Hawaii's lone Republican congressman, who will leave office at the end of the current session, criticized the Democratic-controlled Congress for wrapping into "one giant bill" the 12 appropriations bills, each of which funds different departments of the federal government "because we are so behind."

The House and Senate typically spend months on the 12 annual spending bills, but Democrats did not bring one to the Senate floor this year. The House only passed two of the 12 bills and did not make any of the other 10 public.

"Anybody who looks at this has to shake their heads in how Congress has conducted itself this year," he said. "This is not the way to run government."

"Polynesian Voyaging Society is one of the 6,000 earmarks," Djou said. "Each earmark has some defenders, but that's the problem."

Thompson said the funding would have gone to develop new models of education to build a bridge between culture and science and math and technology, allowing student participation in voyaging. The programs would eventually be used to teach 24,000 students in public and private schools.

"McCain said we take rich people on sails outside Waikiki," Thompson said, inviting the senator to Hawaii to see for himself what the society is about.

"I think it's disrespectful, and I don't think it's appropriate ... to attack the integrity of our organization," he said. By doing so, he attacks "both the symbolism and the reality to not just the people in Hawaii, but people in society. When he attacks the PVS, he attacks the canoe and attacks a whole race of people."

President Barack Obama was expected to leave Washington for Hawaii tomorrow but is putting his Christmas plans on hold until Congress adjourns, Van Dyke said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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