Call it government pork, Hawaii-style:

  • $8.1 million for construction of a new classroom at Waipahu Elementary School on Oahu.

  • $8 million for a Living Learning Center at the University of Hawaii at Hilo on the Big Island.

  • $5.6 million for a water heating system at Mayor Wright Homes on Oahu.

  • $1.5 million for Haleakala Highway Improvements on Maui.

These expenditures — known as capital improvement projects, or CIPs — are included in the budget bill passed by the Hawaii House of Representatives March 16. In a way, they’re the local equivalent of federal earmarks.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee will hold its first hearing on the 220-page measure Monday.

A Civil Beat investigation found that supporters of Speaker Calvin Say had far greater success in securing state dollars than opponents.

Some 90 CIP projects valued at a total of $416 million over the next two fiscal years are directly connected to formal, written requests1 from one or more House lawmakers.

Of those projects that made it into the House’s approved version of the budget — including the four listed above — more than $173 million went to projects requested by Say and his 24 loyalists.

That compares with just $21 million for projects requested by the 17 Democrats who unsuccessfully sought a change in House leadership.

Say retained his hold on power after a protracted struggle that ended on the second day of the session in January. Dissidents ended up voting for Say, as did the House’s eight Republicans.

Approved CIP Requests (in millions)

Faction Fiscal Year
Fiscal Year
Say Loyalists $143.2 $30.5 $173.7
Dissident Democrats $10.5 $10.6 $21.0
Republicans $55.9 $53.5 $109.4
Mixed $15.6 $93.6 $109.2
Total2 $228.2 $188.1 $416.4

Source: Civil Beat analysis of House budget bill

CIP Trios

Eighteen CIP requests totaling $109 million came from a mix of Say supporters, Republicans and dissidents. Seven of the 18 help the district of Rep. Blake Oshiro, a top Say lieutenant.

Oshiro is the House Majority Leader and is considered one of the most influential and effective lawmakers in the entire Legislature (example: civil unions).

Oshiro requested money along with Reps. Mark Takai and Roy Takumi, two House dissidents. The three represent one of the most densely populated areas in the state, which includes Aiea, Red Hill, Pearl City and New Town.

The biggest CIP requests from Oshiro, Takai and Takumi helps the entire region — $4.1 million for improvements along Kamehameha Highway, a primary thoroughfare.

The rest of the Oshiro-Takai-Takumi requests were for schools in their respective and bordering districts: 33, 34 and 36. The largest of those was $2.5 million for upgrades at Aiea High School.

Now, let’s go back to the rest of the 18 CIP requests categorized as “Mixed.” Six others came from Kauai lawmakers: Reps. Jimmy Tokioka, Dee Morikawa and Mina Morita.

Like the Oshiro-Takai-Takumi bloc, the Kauai bloc includes one key Say loyalist (Tokioka) and two dissidents (Morikawa and Morita). But unlike the Oahu representatives, the Kauai representatives cover a largely rural area and are the only House members the Garden Isle sends to the state Capitol.

Just as the Oshiro-Takai-Takumi bloc is heavily focused on schools, the Tokioka-Morikawa-Morita bloc (Districts 15, 16 and 14, respectively) is heavily focused on infrastructure: $8 million for road reconstruction on the way to the Kalalau Lookout atop Waimea Canyon, $3 million for Wailua-Kapaa water systems and $40 million for Wainina Bridge replacement on the North Shore. There’s money for parks and schools as well.

(Note: Morita is now chairwoman of the Public Utilities Commission and her vacant seat awaits an appointment from the governor.)

One other important distinction: Although he sought new leadership in the House, Takumi is a veteran lawmaker with a strong track record of getting legislation passed. The same holds for Morita.

Another Civil Beat investigation found that Takumi had a much higher success rate getting his bills passed by crossover than any other dissident. Morita was tied for second place.

CIP Large and Small

One of the largest CIP request accepted from one lawmaker is $38 million for design and construction for a new auditorium, ground and site improvements, and equipment for King Kekaulike High School in Kula, Maui.

The single-largest CIP request accepted from two or more lawmakers is $48.4 million for design and construction of a fuel pier at Maui’s Kahului Harbor. In this case, all three lawmakers are from Maui and are Say supporters.

The common link between those two massive CIP requests is Rep. Kyle Yamashita, whose District 12 includes Kula. Yamashita is not just any Say loyalist. He’s the House legislator who’s in charge of the CIP request list — a job he was given by the speaker.

Of all the lawmakers, perhaps the most successful in terms of CIP is Rep. Aaron Johanson, a freshman Republican. But that does not necessarily mean Johanson is a wunderkind.

All eight of his successful CIP requests — together totaling more than $102 million — go to major improvements at Honolulu International Airport, which happens to be in his district. (Without him, Republicans would have only received $7 million.)

But state airports, like state harbors and state highways, are subject to major modernization plans already approved through a mix of federal and state monies; the airport would almost certainly get the money it needs regardless of who sits in District 32.

What It Means

Does Calvin Say play favorites when it comes to CIP money? Civil Beat’s calls to Speaker Say and Rep. Yamashita were not returned. But Say last week told Civil Beat that he doesn’t play favorites and defended Yamashita’s handling of CIPs.

Keep in mind that lawmakers don’t always get what they want. Many CIP requests were not approved, and Civil Beat did not evaluate those that were rejected.

Also, schools, roads and parks are typically deemed worthwhile projects that better communities. (That’s the same argument U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye has made at the federal level when it comes to earmarks.)

By focusing only on those projects that have a paper trail, Civil Beat had to leave others out — giving us a less-than-complete picture of CIP money distribution. In all, hundreds of projects valued at nearly $3 billion are included in the latest version of the House’s biennium budget. This is just a taste.

But, when the state is facing a billion-dollar budget deficit over the next two years, and when House dissidents came close to dislodging an entrenched speaker like Calvin Say, how CIP decisions are made and who benefits is important.

The Senate has its own CIP projects, and conference committee meetings in April will hash out the final cut.

The lead negotiator for the House will be Kyle Yamashita.

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