by Natalie Iwasa
The Honolulu City Council and mayor have been going back and forth over taxpayer funding of nonprofit organizations for the past six months. At issue is approximately $6 to 8 million of grants that were line-itemed into the budget by council. These funds are in addition to the approximately $5.5 million that was approved for the new grants-in-aid-program (GIA).
The dispute between the administration and council basically boils down to the process used to award the grants. The organizations and projects that were line-itemed into the budget by council did not go through a vetting process. No applications were submitted. No explanation of how the awards and projects were determined was given. At least one organization didn’t even ask to be funded.
That contrasts with the open and systematic process the GIA commission used to make its recommendations to the council. While improvements are being made to this process, it allowed for public input and discussion.
The public was told the reason a mandated GIA program was necessary is that federal funding for nonprofits has been declining over the years. More recently, the chair of the council, Ernie Martin, indicated we need to put even more taxpayer money into nonprofits to build our “social infrastructure.” Before we look at giving away more money, especially at a time when shortfalls run into the $150 million range, we should know how much we are already spending.
According to the Department on Budget and Fiscal Services, we spent about $82.3 million on projects such as housing, disadvantaged youth, elderly, disease prevention, economic development, culture and arts, vocational rehabilitation and similar programs during the fiscal year ended June 30, 2013. This year’s budget for social infrastructure is even higher at approximately $95.5 million, excluding council add-ins.
The current funding level of $95.5 million is more than what was budgeted for the Honolulu Fire Department.1 Isn’t that enough?
1 The amended budget for the fire department was approximately $87 million.