Spring 1992 Home   Newsletters

Winter 1992

February 1993

President's Message (Evelyn Bender)
Health Care Study - Phase 2
Board of Directors Meeting
Members of the Hawaii Firearms Coalition
Report from the National Convention (Evelyn Bender)
LWVHI Extends its Appreciation for Contributions
1992 Legislative Session (Evelyn Bender)
State Council 1992
Historical Perspectives of Home Rule in Hawaii (Frank F. Fasi)
75th Anniversary
Important Dates for 1992-93
Leasehold Questions
League on the Light Side

Historical Perspectives of Home Rule in Hawaii

Practically before it had a written language, Hawaii had a strongly centralized government. Unlike the mainland, where states were formed subsequent to the growth and establishment of towns and municipalities, Hawaii had its pre-1900 roots in a centralized monarchy. After the monarchy was overthrown and the Hawaiian Islands were annexed by the United States, the Organic Act of 1900 officially established a highly centralized government for the Territory of Hawaii.

The Organic Act gave the Territorial Legislature the authority to create city and county governments within the Territory. It gave the President of the United States the power to appoint Hawaii's governors and judges, to be confirmed by the Senate. As far as Hawaii's government land went (about 43% of the surface area of the islands), the Act gave the United States government control, but powerful missionaries and sugar barons largely used the land for their own benefit. Boards and Commissions were appointed by the Governor and the legislature, so that nonelected officials were making the law of the land. This tradition continues unchecked to this day, with appointed commissions or land boards that are not accountable to the electorate making critical land use decisions.

At the turn of the century, many native Hawaiians joined the new Homerule Party, an affiliation with no mainland equivalent. It advocated restoration of the monarchy, or failing that, some sort of local autonomy for Hawaii. In 1912, when Hawaii's Republicans convinced Prince Jonah Kuhio to run for Congress, he had to defect from the Homerule Party to do so. That pretty much spelled the end of both the party and homerule in Hawaii.

Through the years, Hawaii's county governments have watched what little homerule they had shrink like a beach at high tide. Though city and county governments are closest to the people, the State exercises most of the power. While state government is less removed from the people than federal government, even at the State level it's hard for an individual to influence the process. At county level, the government process is readily accessible to the citizens of Oahu through frequent public and committee hearings and City Council meetings. In the City, there are at least three committee hearings for every bill ( at which time the public an give testimony), plus a public hearing before the full Council.

It is at the county level - the grassroots - where we see some of the real problems Hawaii's people face: traffic congestion, lack of affordable housing, and sky-high consumer prices, Yet the State collects 84% of local taxes paid in Hawaii, leaving little for the counties to meet our obligations. Case in point: Only $25.1 million of the $59 million collected in hotel room taxes on Oahu by the State last fiscal year was given to the county to spend on our island. The other $33.9 million went to the Neighbor Islands.

The State charges the City and County of Honolulu 4 percent gross excise tax on everything we buy. This came to a total of $21.7 million last fiscal year. Naturally, the State doesn't permit the City to collect real property taxes on State property, so, in essence, the City ends up subsidizing the State. Also last year, the State collected $13.7 million in traffic and parking fines and bail forfeitures, while the City enforced the law and prosecuted at a cost of $15.6 million. Honolulu is the only major city in the United States where this happens.

Now they want to build a municipal convention center in Waikiki, taking away another City/County responsibility. They took over the development of Kakaako and the waterfront from Magic Island to the airport, yet we must supply police, fire, water, sewage and transportation services to these areas, all at City expense. And, unlike mainland cities, the State controls our harbors and airports. They took over our school properties, but left us with the debt ($65 million), which we are just now getting out from under. They handle welfare rolls and public housing. They even control municipal cable television licensing. The list goes on and on.

The question we must ask is, "What level of government by design is the most responsive and accountable to the electorate?" Establishing that government should be the goal of the people of Hawaii. I believe the county government most closely meets those criteria - not state-appointed boards or commissions or appointees. It all comes down to a question of power, and power is best vested as close to the electorate as possible. That power should be vested in the policy-making body of county government - the County Councils!

Frank F. Fasi
Mayor, City and County of Honolulu

Spring 1992 Home   Newsletters February 1993