Laying the blame where it belongs

1 Apr

fishing_in_a_pothole-sizedThe newspaper has been running a lot of stories lately on the condition of Honolulu roads, as it should, because they’re terrible.

It’s a so-called “motherhood issue”.

A good politician understands the way to keep a voter happy is make sure their garbage is picked up on time, there’s enough police in their neighborhood they feel safe and there’s no potholes in front of their home.

Mess with any of those and you’ll lose votes.

In most cases the finger of blame is pointed at the last couple of mayors.

That’s wrong – it’s the City Council.

Politics 101 gets underway.

There are two city budgets:
The operating budget and the CIP, or Capital Improvement Budget.

The operating budget pays for salaries, paperclips, electricity bills and so forth.
The day-to-day expenses of running any company.

The CIP is for big items, putting up a building, building roads, building parks, and it’s usually funded by selling bonds.

Building a road is a major capital project and the CIP is used.

Paving an existing road is maintenance and falls under the operating budget.

Every year the Mayor presents his or her “desired” budget to the City Council to operate the city for the coming fiscal year.

It reflects what the Mayor thinks is needed to operate the city as well as new parks, buildings, projects he or she would like to see.

Once the Council gets its hands on it, several months of hearings and meetings happen.

The Council hears from department heads on what is (and isn’t) in their budget.

It’s a time for Council members to get an understanding what each department needs or wants.

No administration budget ever survives in the form it was given to the Council.

When it’s all over – the budget reflects what the Council wants and all the Mayor can do is accept or veto it.

Council members make changes to put in or take out what they feel is important, and you can bet money is set aside for projects in each council member’s district so they look good to the people who voted them into office.

Again, the motherhood issues.

And that includes money for paving the roads.

In the late 90’s when the city was struggling, the council removed a lot of money that was earmarked for road repair.

Members wanted it spent in other areas it felt were more important at the time.

Council members could have just as easily put more money into road repair for a particular district in need.

A look at the city’s road database indicates District 5 – Kaimuki, Makiki, Manoa, McCully and Ala Moana – has the worst roads of all nine council districts.

That district is represented by Ann Kobayashi, who has spent much of her time on the Council as the Budget Chair.

Just about anyone who works for the city in any capacity will tell you the Budget Chair is easily the most powerful council position.

The chair controls the purse strings and whether you are a member of the administration or another councilmember, what you’ll end up getting has a lot to do with the personal relationship you have with the Budget Chair.

When you go bouncing down the street, remember the blame for those potholes belongs not only to the Mayor – it’s also the City Council.

And for those in District 5, it’s your elected representative.

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