Too early for AG’s contingency fund
Any call for a new state or county contingency fund — a cash reserve set aside to cover possible future expenses — elicits varied responses.
Mahalo for reading the Honolulu Star-Advertiser!
You're reading a premium story. Read the full story with our Print & Digital Subscription.
Already a subscriber? Log in now to continue reading this story.
Any call for a new state or county contingency fund — a cash reserve set aside to cover possible future expenses — elicits varied responses. Supporters may cite prudent planning in anticipation of a potential emergency situation or incident. Opponents may counter that there’s little sense in stashing funds for something that’s only imaginable.
In the case of Hawaii Attorney General Douglas Chin asking the Legislature to create a $2.5 million fund that could be tapped to prepare for or respond to mass violence or civil disobedience events — including, possibly, telescope- related demonstrations atop Mauna Kea — the need seems premature.
While detailing a budget request from his department last week before the Senate Ways and Means and Judiciary committees, and the House Finance Committee, Chin said the proposed fund would be used to coordinate response efforts among the state’s law enforcement officers — investigators for the Attorney General’s Office, deputy sheriffs under the Department of Public Safety, and Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement officers under the Department of Land and Natural Resources.
As the state’s chief law enforcement officer, Chin should direct a prepping for hypothetical joint enforcement efforts. And recent national incidents should prompt an ongoing assessment about the state’s ability to readily respond to events like the Las Vegas shooting at a music festival in October and violent clashes at a rally in Charlottesville, Va., in August that promoted white nationalism.
Chin’s office is not seeking a recurring annual appropriation but wants to establish a contingency that sets aside $2.5 million for use as needed. That impulse is understandable, given that in the immediate aftermath of the Las Vegas shooting that killed 58 people, the cost of emergency police, fire and other related services was projected at $4 million.
Also, in Charlottesville, local governments, hospitals and the University of Virginia spent at least $540,000 preparing for and responding to last summer’s white supremacist rallies, according to estimates released last month.
However, squirreling away funding tagged for hypothetical or even open-ended purposes recalls other eyebrow-raising allocations.
For example, before the Great Recession, the Hawaii County Council had a $2.7 million contingency fund, with each Council member spending $300,000 as they saw fit, hinging on expenditure approval from the Council and pertinent county departments. The fund, which has since been reduced, gets mixed reviews. Critics have called it a slush fund for pet projects and maintain that it can be used to help Council members win re-election. Supporters say the practice results in county district- focused spending that can help worthy-but-overlooked projects pick up financial support.
In response to Chin’s proposal, Sen. Laura Thielen (D, Hawaii Kai-Waimanalo-Kailua), rightly suggested the department provide more justification for contingency funding. Other than ensuring a rapid flow of communication is at the ready among law enforcement agencies should a large-scale incident emerge, it’s unclear what this upfront money is needed for, exactly.
Hawaii is among 48 states that already have a rainy day fund, with budget-stabilization money set aside in good times to help make financial ends meet in hard times and to pay for unforeseen emergencies.
Last year, in response to a similar funding request by the attorney general, lawmakers opted against creating a fund, pointing out that money could be sought as an emergency appropriation when needed. This case-by-case approach is sensible as a continuing state policy.