Published in The Maui News, June 21, 2015
By MIKE WHITE, for The Maui News
This is an important week for Maui County Council members and, more important, our constituents.
In a special meeting Monday at 9 a.m., the council will consider overriding the mayor’s line-item veto of portions of the fiscal year 2016 budget.
The veto concerns the council’s action to restrict appropriations in the respective categories of salaries, operations and equipment to those specific categories, unless the council approves a transfer to another category. I explained the underlying prudent fiscal policies in this space last week (“Seeking transparency, frugality in county budget,” June 14).
Put simply, the mayor’s actions show he is opposed to transparency and accountability. I am puzzled by the mayor’s perspective.
The mayor asserts the council is deviating from the principles of program budgeting that the county has followed for two decades. To the contrary, the council’s fiscal year 2016 budget is a program budget.
The council’s budget is one that restricts the manager of each program to spend salary money on salaries, equipment money on equipment and operations money on operations. That’s all.
We’re not going to continue with a free-for-all where a bucket of money is given to each manager to spend at will. We have seen again and again allegations of financial improprieties within county agencies.
The departments of environmental management, parks and recreation and public works have all been in the spotlight. Each report we hear reduces our trust in the administration. Not only our trust as council members, but the taxpayers’ trust as well.
The council’s budget is simply holding the administration and each of its department heads to the broad budget categories they proposed to the council in March.
The mayor says the council’s decision will cause a huge slowdown in the financial processes and operations of the county. This is an exaggeration.
A senior administration official told the council’s Budget and Finance Committee the category spending restrictions won’t be an undue burden.
Indeed, our county accounting system already accommodates the display of spending by category.
If the mayor truly was in favor of fiscal responsibility and accountability, he would agree with the council. In fact, when he was a council member he shared the current council’s perspective.
The bottom line is the administration wants less accountability in spending. But is that in the taxpayers’ best interest?
This council has acted consistently to show the taxpayers we are serious and intend to hold the county to a high standard. An open, honest and transparent standard. That is the fundamental responsibility of each member of the county council. And that is what the council’s budget calls for.
* Mike White is chair of the Maui County Council and vice chair of the council’s Budget and Finance Committee. He holds the council seat for the Paia-Haiku-Makawao residency area. “Chair’s 3 Minutes” is a weekly column to explain the latest news on county legislative matters. Go to mauicounty.us for more information.