Lawmaker grills land department on use of state funds

A state department is getting grilled about how it spends taxpayer money.

Departments meet annually to present their budgets to the Senate Ways and Means Committee, so senators can have a better understanding of what the departments need to thrive.

On Thursday, committee chair, Sen. Jill Tokuda, grilled the Department of Land and Natural Resources on what it’s done with its money these last few years.

Tokuda reminded DLNR chair Suzanne Case that the department repeatedly told lawmakers it needs to increase staffing, so that’s what lawmakers did.

But Tokuda questioned if money given to DLNR was used for other things, and if the department was shrinking certain divisions to add more staff to administration.

Tokuda: It really concerns me that all this time, what we’ve heard from this administration, what we’ve heard from advocates, is ‘Let’s build up capacity in DLNR.’ This looks like you’re decreasing capacity in these divisions.

Case: That’s definitely not the intention.

Tokuda: That’s the interpretation I get. You’re taking capacity away from divisions and you’re centralizing it in admin. Last year, we even gave you — last year or at least last biennium, we gave you additional staff for accounting, did we not?

Case: Yes. Our intention is not to decrease capacity in the divisions. Our intention is to have uniform fiscal controls.

Tokuda: I understand that, but I think you really need to take a look at how you’re administering this particular uniform controls.

Case: Fair enough.

Tokuda: Go back and look at the history of excuses you’ve made, and I would like to know too if you spent any of that money on anything for this particular unit already. Any vehicles? Any uniforms? Any investment of any of that money since fiscal year ’15?

Kelii Akina, president of Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, says it’s important to take a hard look at how taxpayer money is being spent.

“The public has to hold our public officials accountable,” Akina said. “In government, workers don’t own the means of production, so we aren’t taking care in government the way they do in small business to make sure everything is efficient. That’s why people like Sen. Tokuda have to hold our officials accountable.”

A DLNR spokesman says the department hired 11 new officers in 2015 and 10 in 2016 in the Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement.

We dug into the report DLNR prepared for lawmakers and found there are also 27 open positions in the division.

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