Analysis Shows Hawaii House Spread Project Money To The Neighbor Islands - Honolulu Civil Beat

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Chad Blair

Chad Blair is the politics and opinion editor for Civil Beat. You can reach him by email at or follow him on Twitter at @chadblairCB.

Hundreds of millions of dollars in capital improvement projects are slated for legislative districts on Kauai, Maui County and the Big Island.

Most of the state’s money for capital improvement projects for schools, airports, harbors, hospitals and more is not going to Oahu, a Civil Beat review of appropriations approved this past session shows.

Instead, the lion’s share of the money is going to Hawaii House of Representative districts on Kauai, Hawaii and Maui counties.

All but three of the top 15 districts receiving money, out of the 51 members in House, are located on the neighbor islands. The pattern is very similar to CIP distribution in the 25-member state Senate and is not a surprise, given that House districts overlap Senate districts.

Indeed, it’s the same $1.7 billion pot of money, part of the $4.2 billion figure in total CIP for the 2024 and 2025 fiscal years that began July 1 and is part of the state budget that became law in July.

The remainder — $2.5 billion — is to be used for hundreds of statewide projects including highways, universities, parks, renewal projects, deferred maintenance and much more.

But it’s not like Oahu, the population center, is getting slighted. Big ticket items include $218 million for the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport and $85 million for Honolulu Harbor.

SHIGE YAMADA's sculpture 'Maui releases the Sun' gets little attention from passengers who want to be released from the airport ....
The Maui airport in Kahului can expect $37 million for construction improvements to terminals, systems and facilities. (Ludwig Laab/Civil Beat/2021)

The majority of Department of Education facilities are in the City and County of Honolulu, too, and they are set to receive lots of money to make various improvements.

As with the Senate, the CIP requests for the airport and harbor came from the state Department of Transportation, while much of the funding going to schools comes from the DOE and not the area reps.

That is why Sonny Ganaden of District 30 (Kalihi, Kalihi Kai, Keehi Lagoon, Hickam Village) and Daniel Holt of District 28 (Sand Island, Iwilei, Chinatown) appear to have received the most CIP by far (see chart). Subtract the funds going to the airport and harbors and CIP for both reps shrinks dramatically.

The same goes for House Speaker Scott Saiki, whose District 25 (Ala Moana, Kakaako, Downtown) includes the State Capitol and the Department of Health’s main office. But Saiki did not request the $100 million for construction of a mental health crisis unit nor $33.5 million to rehabilitate the leaky pools at the Capitol.

“The House CIP was based on decisions set either by the administration or House members,” said Saiki, whose direct CIP request totaled $9 million for upgrades and construction at McKinley High School.

Which House Districts Got The Most CIP Fund Requests

As pointed out in an earlier article on Senate CIP, spending details are not easily obtained from the Legislature’s budget documents, making it arduous to determine where exactly taxpayer monies are going.

Using the latest House reapportionment maps and Google Maps, Civil Beat looked up all of the capital improvement projects — 387 total. Here are some key takeaways.

Smaller Districts

The needs of districts differ dramatically and range from roads to hospitals to water systems to community areas. The socio-economic status of the populations also vary.

What’s different between the House and Senate when it comes to CIP, though, is that each House seat represents a far smaller area geographically — about 26,000 residents, according to the 2021 reapportionment data. Typically, several House members districts comprise and overlap into a single Senate district.

Like the Senate, House members often tout their gains for districts in press releases. Such was the case of Reps. Dee Morikawa, Luke Evslin and Nadine Nakamura, who announced shortly before session ended in May $145 million in CIP to bring improvements and funding for resources and facilities “throughout the Garden Isle.”

The money includes:

  • $7.2 million for construction of a covered walkway and electrical upgrades at Kapaa Elementary School 
  • $2.1 million for design and construction for moving sand from the East to the West of the Kikiaola Small Boat Harbor breakwater
  • $1.1 million for design and construction improvements to the upper and lower Aahoaka reservoirs
  • $2 million for improving various lookouts at Waimea Canyon State Park 

Rep. Scott Nishimoto, who handles CIP for the House, agreed with Saiki that the House prioritized health and safety and the administration’s requests — a good many of them for neighbor islands.

  • A Special Commentary Project

“And that’s why you see projects like the two hospitals on the Big Island, because it’s an access issue,” he said. “We also heavily funded the hospitals on Kauai.”

That money includes $18.5 million for Kona Community Hospital to expand its pharmacy and to mitigate against natural disasters, $50 million for a new ICU and expansion of a medical surgical unit at Hilo Medical Center, and $20.2 million for work at Samuel Mahelona Memorial Hospital in Kapaa, including money for a new psychiatric unit.

“We did things like retrofitting buildings for hurricane protection, rockfall mitigation, reservoir safety,” said Nishimoto. “That all goes to health and safety. For us, that was the priority.”

Nishimoto said that the Civil Beat analysis might give the misperception that some reps got what they wanted and others did not. His District 23 (Moiliili, McCully) is set to get $5.1 million for Kaimuki High School and $1.5 million for Washington Middle School, for example.

In fact, he said, many representatives whose districts border colleagues typically have shared CIP interests, as the money benefits the larger community.

“With school projects, one of the things that makes it a little muddy to try to do it like you’re doing it — to attribute it to one person — is that you can have a school like Kaimuki High School, and that's probably three or four reps’ school. I know Jackson Sayama has kids that go there, Bert Kobayashi has kids that go there, I do. So one particular project might not be just one rep’s priority.”

Sayama’s District 21 covers St. Louis Heights, Palolo Valley, Maunalani Heights, Wilhelmina Rise and Kaimuki, while Kobayashi’s District 20 represents Leahi, Kahala, Waialae, Kaimuki and Kapahulu.

Civil Beat’s analysis shows that three of the six Republicans in the House did not receive any CIP. Nishimoto said that it was his understanding that “every member got something” and he reiterated his earlier point about shared priorities.

“Every school got something,” he said. “So they've got schools in their district, or if the school is not in their district, their kids go to that school. That’s as good as theirs, although it’s not physically in your district.”

Big island Hilo Norwegian Cruiseship
A Norwegian Cruise ship in Hilo. Almost $27 million will go to work on Hilo Harbor. (Ku‘u Kauanoe/Civil Beat/2022)

One of those GOP members, Rep. Diamond Garcia, said that the Democrat-controlled Legislature has long played “power politics with our money and resources. It’s unfortunate, but that is the reality and it’s been that way for decades.”

But Garcia (whose District 42 represents portions of Varona Village, Ewa, and Kapolei and Fernandez Village) did say he was pleased to see that $15 million will go to build a new high school in East Kapolei. The precise location for the new facility was not clear when the money was appropriated, but Garcia said it would be near the University of Hawaii West Oahu.

“The fact is that, no matter who is in power in West Oahu, we are a growing community, the fastest-developing in the state,” he said. “And we need infrastructure. Both Kapolei and Campbell high are over capacity. Fifteen million (dollars) is just the bare minimum — it will cost a lot more. So I intend fight for more CIP in the years ahead.”

Statewide Focus

The House differs from the Senate in another way regarding CIP: While the Senate Ways and Means Committee vice chair is in charge of determining CIP requests in that chamber, in the House it is not the vice chair of the House Finance Committee — Rep. Lisa Kitagawa — but another FIN member, Nishimoto.

Nishimoto said that’s the way it’s been done in the two decades he has served in the House, with one exception: Rep. Kyle Yamashita, the current Finance chair who previously handled CIP, temporarily assumed the vice chair duties when Rep. Ty Cullen admitted to taking bribes in early 2022 and resigned from the Legislature.

The House also got first crack at crafting CIP in the budget before handing it off to the Senate midway through the 2023 session. Nishimoto said he worked smoothly with his CIP counterpart in the Senate, WAM Vice Chair Gil Keith-Agaran, who he previously worked with when the Maui senator was in the House.

Rep. Troy Hashimoto, whose District 10 (portions of Waiehu, Paukukalo, Wailuku, Wailuku Heights and Waikapu) is slated to receive $83.6 million in CIP, credits Saiki and especially Yamashita (also from Maui) for ensuring the money was distributed widely across the state.

“It’s gets messy in conference (committee), but he really made sure to spread it throughout the state,” said Hashimoto. “Kyle made sure all 51 districts got something.”

Hashimoto’s priority was Baldwin High School, which will receive $25 million in part to pay for new athletic facilities.

Hashimoto, chair of the House Committee on Housing, spoke to Civil Beat after the wildfires devastated Lahaina. The focus at the Legislature going forward, he said, will be on getting money for housing — something that was already in the works prior to the fires.

It was unclear how that may change now given all the damage and destruction of properties including state facilities.

“I think that at this juncture, a lot of funding will be determined later,” Hashimoto said, adding that he expected the federal government will be directly involved in the rebuilding as will insurance compensation.

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About the Author

Chad Blair

Chad Blair is the politics and opinion editor for Civil Beat. You can reach him by email at or follow him on Twitter at @chadblairCB.

Latest Comments (0)

Good, our neighbor islands need the infrastructure. They been left out for too long. At least no one can say the Legislature is O'ahu-centric.

wilson.aliado · 2 weeks ago

I saw only the 2 hospitals on Big Island receiving funds. Nothing for Puna districts ? The largest and fastest growing district in the state. We the poor step-child again and again.

Mrs.Kuualoha · 2 weeks ago

Wow, just wow, I think I spent over a half hour reading the article and looking at the charts...back and forth. There's such a good old boy Network going on in our legislature that it's too hard for them to keep the curtain closed with civil beat opening it all the time.Mahalo for the in-depth and great reporting!

Scotty_Poppins · 2 weeks ago

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