–Published in The Honolulu Weekly on March 9, 2011–


“Sustainable” might be the buzzword of the times, but when it comes to allotting money to fund these efforts, state agencies are hardest hit.

Each year, the state Department of Budget and Finance releases an annual variance report showing how much of its budget was spent by state agencies. Variance reports are supposed to be posted by Nov. 30, in advance of the legislative hearings on budget requests for the coming legislative session, but for the last two years these reports have been late.

Environment Hawaii details the many efforts it made to contact the department and find out where the results were. It finally heard back from the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) in June 2010–roughly six months after the 2009 report should have been published–that it was “still in draft form and has not yet been finalized.”

To date, both the 2009 and 2010 budgets have been published (better late than never, right?) and you don’t have to search far to find out why the Lingle administration was so slow to release the report.

For the 2010 fiscal year, the state’s total operating budget was $10.8 billion, yet only $9.4 billion, or 87 percent, of the total budget was spent. For example, the Department of Agriculture (DOA) was given a budget of $40.6 million in 2010, yet only $26.3 million, or 65 percent, was spent. A casualty of these cuts was the DOA’s quarantine program (responsible for protecting our islands from invasive species), which only spent 56 percent of its allotted budget.

Other notable state agencies that suffered from these cuts are the Department of Health’s Environmental Management Program (which regulates wastewater, solid waste, safe drinking water, coastal water quality and air pollution), the Office of Planning, the Department of Human Services, and the Department of Land and Natural Resources–all of which spent less than 50 percent of their expected budgets.

Although some may applaud these departments for underspending, the fact is that they underspent only because their total alloted budget was not released. Chances are these funds were withdrawn in an effort to reduce budget deficits, but questions still remain as to why health and environmental-related departments and offices were hardest hit.