WASHINGTON — It might sound funny to some, but Pat Lindquist says she’s putting her faith in Congress.

For the past 50 years, Lindquist and her family have owned property along Napili Bay on Maui’s northwest coast. During that time she’s witnessed rising tides and coastal erosion decimate the beach and choke off the reef.

In 2006, she and others founded a nonprofit, the Napili Bay and Beach Foundation, to fight back against the degradation, much of it due to climate change, and save what they could.

The beach at Napili Bay has become narrower over time due to erosion and rising sea levels. Napili Bay and Beach Foundation

The challenge, however, has been raising money. And that, she said, is why Washington matters.

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz has requested a $3 million earmark in the fiscal year 2023 budget for the Napili Bay and Beach Foundation to dredge up offshore sand to help restore the beach and establish a vegetated dune ecosystem to address erosion.

The funding, if approved, would also help pay for coral restoration.

“This money would be a gamechanger,” Lindquist said, noting that the largest single grant the foundation ever received was for $75,000. “It’s key to us getting this done in a timely way, which is as soon as possible. The longer we wait the more damage there’s going to be.”

Whether the money comes through is an open question. Congress passed legislation last week to fund the government through Dec. 23 and avert a shutdown.

The stopgap bill is meant to give lawmakers more time to put the finishing touches on a $1.7 trillion omnibus spending deal that would keep the government running at least through September and include billions of dollars in earmarks and other set-asides for special projects that were requested by individual members of Congress.

While a global budget deal has bipartisan support, including from the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, its passage is not yet guaranteed.

Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has openly criticized the plan and called for lawmakers to punt negotiations into the new year when the GOP retakes control of the House, thus giving his party more leverage to cut spending and reshape policy.

When talking to his own caucus, he reportedly said he was a “hell no” on any deal before then.

Senator Brian Schatz takes questions during his town hall meeting held at Washington Middle School.
U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz says he’s hopeful that Congress can pass an omnibus spending bill by the end of the year. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019

At stake for Hawaii are hundreds of millions of dollars in earmarks, which lawmakers have rebranded as “congressionally directed spending.”

Schatz and the other three members of Hawaii’s federal delegation, including U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono and Reps. Ed Case and Kai Kahele, have set aside funds for a wide range of initiatives across the islands from cancer research to military housing.

They’ve requested funds to help the Bishop Museum relocate its ichthyology collection, which includes the world’s first megamouth shark; build more affordable housing for people suffering from mental illness and create a permanent endowment for the University of Hawaii to recruit and retain more diverse faculty in science, health and engineering.

Other allocations include investments in renewable energy, bolstering hurricane resiliency at Honolulu fire stations and establishing a business incubator for the state’s nascent space industry.

“Negotiations are ongoing and I’m confident — but not overconfident — that we’ll have a funding deal next week.” — U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz

Franz Wuerfmannsdobler is a senior adviser at the Bipartisan Policy Center and former staffer on the Senate Appropriations Committee. He said any move that pushes budget negotiations into the new year with a divided Congress opens the door to uncertainty and could put current earmark requests at risk.

“If the fiscal year 2023 omnibus isn’t approved by the end of this year they could really be opening up a can of worms,” Wuerfmannsdobler said.

Republicans in the House already have voted to retain earmarks so it’s not a question of whether they disapprove of the process, he said. Rather it’s a matter of what the new House leadership decides in terms of negotiations moving forward.

It’s possible House appropriators will stay the course and honor all the previous earmark requests, regardless of whether those members who made the requests are still in Congress.

But it’s also possible, Wuerfmannsdobler said, that GOP leaders will completely redo the process, which might result in retiring members losing out on funds they requested in 2022. The only member of Hawaii’s delegation that this scenario might affect is Kahele, who did not seek reelection.

Wuerfmannsdobler said all this presumes the House and Senate can work together on a new spending package for fiscal year 2023, which officially began on Oct. 1.

“The worst-case scenario is that there is no omnibus bill for fiscal year 2023 at all and they pass a year-long continuing resolution,” Wuerfmannsdobler said. “In that case no member requests would go through.”

The state of play will become clearer in the coming days.

Lawmakers are expected to release the full text of the omnibus spending bill Monday. House and Senate leaders are planning for votes shortly thereafter with the hope that the bill is passed before the money runs out on Friday.

In the meantime, Schatz, who sits on the Appropriations Committee and is a key member of Democratic Party leadership, is being careful with his words.

Schatz was unavailable to discuss the omnibus negotiations in an interview Friday, but did issue a short written statement through his office expressing his optimism.

“Negotiations are ongoing and I’m confident — but not overconfident — that we’ll have a funding deal next week,” he said.

Civil Beat’s coverage of climate change is supported by the Environmental Funders Group of the Hawaii Community Foundation, Marisla Fund of the Hawaii Community Foundation and the Frost Family Foundation.

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