In Colleen Hanabusa‘s campaign ad, “Paperless,” posted on YouTube on March 24, she claims, “When I got to the State Senate, things were a mess, literally. So I went to work. We cut waste and moved all of this stuff online. Saved us millions.”

Hanabusa is referring to the Hawaii Senate Paperless Initiative that was first implemented for the 2008 legislative session. The two goals were to improve public access and participation, and to streamline the legislative process, according to the initiative’s website.

Richard Rapoza, Senate communications director, said the process to go paperless was multi-faceted.

The Senate worked with the House to expand Wi-Fi use in the Capitol. Other upgrades included computer purchases, training sessions, conference room improvements and more public access to files on the Senate website.

“Senator Hanabusa took a direct personal interest in the paperless initiative and its success,” Rapoza said in an e-mail to Civil Beat. “As Senate President, she initiated the paperless initiative, helping to present the idea to Senate leadership and ensuring that the working groups had the support they needed to review current practices, develop recommendations, and implement the changes. She also encouraged individual Senators’ involvement in the process to help ensure “buy-in” and support cooperation. With the President’s support and encouragement, the paperless initiative also received the funding it need to make the required infrastructure changes that helped make the initiative a success.”

Civil Beat asked Rapoza just how much the Senate has saved since Hanabusa introduced the initiative in December 2007.

Rapoza said the Senate has decreased the pages of paper it uses by 84.3 percent since 2007. Before the 2008 legislative session, the Senate used 9,798,456 pages of paper [pdf] weighing 19.6 tons. After two years, paper use shrunk to 1,543,053 pages, 3.09 tons. That’s serious progress, but it’s not “paperless.”

Hanabusa claims this paper reduction “saved us millions.” The ad sources an article by the Associated Press published on Feb. 6, 2010 in The Honolulu Advertiser. The article, titled “Hawaii Senate cuts costs by reducing paper usage,” reported a total cost savings of $1.2 million as a result of the paperless initiative. A different version of the same article by the Associated Press published on the same day in The New York Times reported the same savings.

However, the $1.2 million reported in both articles is misleading.

“The $1.2 million savings was total budget reduction during that period. Not all of it was directly attributable to paperless,” Rapoza said. “The story seems to imply that, but there were other reductions in staffing and budget that did not necessarily come from paperless changes.”

The savings solely attributed to the paperless initiative since 2007 are $559,803.64, according to an Excel spreadsheet Rapoza provided to Civil Beat. Of that, $147,502.64 was for paper, $120,000 for copier leases and $292,301 from staff reductions.

It is true the amount of paper the Senate uses has been dramatically reduced since Hanabusa has been in office, but it has not resulted in millions of dollars in savings — yet.

About the Author