Language in the Honolulu City Charter requiring the city to set aside a percentage of annual revenues for a grants-in-aid fund to be doled out to Oahu nonprofits would be abolished under a plan moving through the Charter Commission.
Proposed by a commission subcommittee headed by former Gov. John Waihee, the amendment would do away with an amendment approved by Oahu voters in 2012 that requires one-half of 1 percent of all general fund revenues, about $6 million annually, to go to nonprofits.
The subcommittee’s plan is opposed by both Mayor Kirk Caldwell and City Council Chairman Ernie Martin, even though they have been at loggerheads over how much taxpayer funds the city should direct to nonprofits.
Martin said he authored the 2012 amendment hoping to ensure a set amount of money is available to help nonprofits that have proved valuable to the community. A Grants in Aid Advisory Commission vets proposals and makes recommendations on distribution to the Council, which makes the final decisions.
Caldwell said he supports the current language but objects to Council members arbitrarily inserting additional funding for nonprofits in the budget.
The mayor has, in fact, refused to release nearly all funding to nonprofits that was added in recent years by the Council outside of the advisory commission process.
Describing it as a form of pork-barreling, Caldwell said adding funding on top of the percentage required by the 2012 amendment gives Council members the ability to dole out money to their friends and curry favor, bypassing the established advisory committee vetting process — at the expense of essential city services.
Martin, however, said he meant for the required set-aside for nonprofits to be only a minimum amount, and that other money should be distributed if the Council sees the need, as long as doing so does not affect essential city services.
A proposal by Martin and Councilman Joey Manahan to give New Hope Church Oahu $500,000 for its upcoming expansion of facilities on Sand Island Access Road was pulled back after criticism about taxpayer money going to a religious organization.
Caldwell asked the commission to consider an amendment barring the Council from inserting additional grants to nonprofits on top of the required set-aside.
But Waihee said his subcommittee looked at things from a more global view and believes issues involving grants should not be in the charter at all, but worked out by the Council and the mayor through ordinances.
In explaining the recommendation at a Charter Commission meeting Thursday, Waihee brought up the disagreements between Caldwell and the Council over how much, and how, nonprofits should be funded.
“There is no reason,” he said, why such discussions can’t take place in the form of bills and ordinances.
“The abolition is not involving grants in aid,” Waihee said. “It’s taking grants in aid out of the charter and suggesting to the city that it be handled in a much more flexible and extensive manner which can be achieved by ordinance.”
The subcommittee report chastised the Council for essentially bypassing the advisory committee process. “We believe … that if a system is established, the Council should abide with the system established. If not, it makes a mockery of the section, and rewards political prowess not merit if the current section’s provisions are effectively bypassed.”
Despite their disagreements over grants, Martin and the administration oppose getting rid of the required set-aside, fund and advisory commission.
“The GIA fund does not divert resources away from core city services and thus the charter amendment to eliminate the fund is not necessary,” Martin said in an email.
“The Council member of each district knows what services their community needs most and must have the ability to work with the community to award these grants,” Martin said. “The mayor and Council may differ on how the fund is administered, but agree this program is critical to serving our citizens.”
Caldwell spokesman Jesse Broder Van Dyke said, “The governor has a valid point that it doesn’t make sense to have a mandatory, half-percent through a commission process and then to earmark additional grants on top of that.”
Caldwell supports the grants advisory commission process because it removes political favoritism from the process. “Not only does the GIA advisory commission vet projects for their benefits to the community, they also look closely at their financial plans and score them to make sure that they actually have financial plans that ensure they deliver what they promise to do.”
PLOTTING THE COURSE
The Honolulu Charter Commission begins a series of four islandwide meetings today.
Commission Chairman David Rae said the goal of the meetings is to give Oahu residents the chance to learn more about proposed charter amendments and provide their input on them.
The commission will make its final decisions in July on what questions to pose to the voters in November’s general election.
All meetings begin at 6 p.m.:
>> Today, Honolulu Hale, City Council Committee Room 205
>> Wednesday, Mililani High School cafeteria
>> Friday, Windward Community College, Hale Kuhina Room 115
>> July 6, University of Hawaii West Oahu, Campus Center Multipurpose Room C-208
To see proposed amendments and agendas of the meetings, go to honoluluchartercommission.org.