Saturday, November 17, 2018
Hawai'i Free Press

Current Articles | Archives

Wednesday, October 17, 2018
The Advertised Cost of a Constitutional Convention
By J. H. Snider Ph.D. @ 4:00 AM :: 745 Views :: Hawaii State Government

The Advertised Cost of a Constitutional Convention

by J.H. Snider, Ph.D., Hawaiʻi State Constitutional Convention Clearinghouse

In print and TV ads, Constitutional Convention opponents have been claiming that the cost of voting yes for a state constitutional convention on Nov. 6 would be too high. Consider the print ad launched by Preserve Our Hawaii, the leading No Coalition, in the Sunday edition of the October 14 Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Run on three different pages, its text reads:

If we can’t afford to repair public facilities, why spend $55 Million on ConCon? Vote ‘No!’ on the constitutional convention ballot question.

In the same edition, the No Coalition’s leading spokesperson from its last campaign in 2008 echoes the same message in an op-ed:

The estimated cost of a Hawaii Constitutional Convention (ConCon), if approved by voters at the Nov. 6 election is $56 million. Yes, that’s right: $56 million…. Are there any changes to our Constitution worth this amount of tax dollars at this time? I conclude the answer is a resounding NO.

A TV ad, launched on October 7, echoes the same message.  So do Multiple print and TV ads during the last campaign against a convention in 2008.

The $55 million figure being promoted by Preserve Our Hawaii is highly controversial.  Hawaii’s last convention in 1978 cost $2.03 million. In current dollars, that sum would be $7.7 million. Preserve Our Hawaii hasn’t cited a source but is presumably working from the Legislative Reference Bureau’s 2008 report requested by the Legislature’s leadership to provide ammunition to convention opponents. That report estimated that in 2012 dollars a convention would cost between $7.5 million and $48.8 million. The $55 million figure presumably extrapolates from the upper bound $48.8 million figure. Even then, Preserve Our Hawaii is only quoting the report’s upper bound. A competing 2008 report published by a workgroup organized by Hawaii’s Lt. Governor found the Legislature’s cost estimates wildly inflated.

But costs per se mean nothing.  To mean something, they must be compared to something else.  The comparisons that the No Coalition’s political research firms have tested as helping their campaign include comparisons to the average Hawaiian’s personal income (far less than a convention’s cost) and some of the most popular government expenditures, such as fixing potholes and paying for more teacher supplies.

But many other potential cost comparisons could be made.  One category of such comparisons compares aggregate government revenue to the average individual’s income. Total government spending in Hawaii is approximately $14 billion a year or $140 billion over the ten-year period between convention referendums.  With this comparison, a convention’s cost becomes comparable to a rounding error.

Another comparison category is a large individual project.  For example, the current estimated cost of Hawaii’s rail project is approximately $10 billion, of which the cost of a convention would be approximately one thousandth of its cost, or about 100 feet of the project’s length.

Another category is state government waste.  Americans believe their state government wastes about 42% of every tax dollar, which would be more than $50 billion between the decennial convention referendums.  A poll asked Hawaii voters: “How well do you feel State government efficiently spends our tax dollars?” 57% replied “not well.” If a convention reduced government corruption and its resulting inefficiency by only 1% over a decade, it would have more than a 5,000% return on investment.

My own favorite category is the cost of a government without democratic checks & balances.  Doing away with costly checks & balances, including the two branches of the legislature, an independent judiciary, and local elected government, would result in a single elected state official. Just think of all the potholes we could fix if we got rid of all those wasteful democracy enhancing expenditures!  Indeed, when dictator Benito Mussolini took over Italy in the 1920s, that’s what he promised: massive public works! (Note: although the Legislature loves to issue reports on a convention’s cost, I haven’t been able to find a comparable report on its own costs.)

Of course, most Hawaii residents would recognize that reducing democratic accountability institutions to this bare minimum—no matter how much money it would save—would be penny wise and pound foolish because democratic accountability costs money.  The same can be said for the democratic accountability a convention provides, which is why Hawaii’s Framers included this legislative bypass mechanism in Hawaii’s Constitution. Hawaii’s Framers understood that it was essential to provide a mechanism to allow the people to bypass the State Legislature’s gatekeeping power over state constitutional amendment. In comparison to the cost of Hawaii’s other democratic accountability institutions, a convention’s cost would be a rounding error.

Yet another category is the value of passing a specific popular amendment that the Legislature won’t pass.  For example, how much would the people be willing to spend to pass state legislative term limits or the citizen initiative?  Would they be worth the cost of Hawaii’s last convention in 1978; that is, $7.8 million in today’s dollars?

The list of such alternate comparisons is endless. The key point is that any discussion of a convention’s costs without a thoughtful discussion of its potential benefits is inherently misleading.  Moreover, a good faith discussion of potential benefits should not focus on fixing potholes but on a convention’s potential to help fix Hawaii’s democracy. 

Of course, it is in the No Coalition’s interest to focus on a convention’s potential costs rather than benefits.  Accordingly, its ad compaigns over recent decades have refused to acknowledge, let alone discuss in good faith, why Hawaii’s Framers created the convention process to propose popular democratic reforms adverse to the Legislature’s institutional self-interest.

As the No Coalition’s ad campaign against a convention gathers steam in the coming weeks, observers should be asking themselves: is it promoting the right cost comparison? And what exactly is it that Big Labor and Big Business, the key financiers and organizers behind the No Coalition, fear from a convention?  Might it be that the costs they most fear, such as a reduction of their control over the State Legislature, might actually benefit the great majority of Hawaii?

---30---

J.H. Snider, Ph.D., is the Editor of The Hawaiʻi State Constitutional Convention Clearinghouse

LINK: Articles by J H Snider PhD

Links

TEXT "follow HawaiiFreePress" to 40404

Register to Vote

2aHawaii

808 Silent Majority

808 State Update AM940

ABCDEFG Blog

ACA Signups Hawaii

ACCE

Affordable Hawaii Coalition

ALEC

Alliance Defending Freedom

Aloha Conservative Alliance

Aloha Life Advocates

Aloha Pregnancy Care Center

American Council of Trustees and Alumni

American Mothers of Hawaii

AMVETS-Hawaii

AntiPlanner

Antonio Gramsci Reading List

A Place for Women in Waipio

Audit The Rail

Ballotpedia Hawaii

Better Hawaii 

Blaisdell Memorial Project

Broken Trust

CAFR Hawaii

Castaway Conservative

Children's Alliance Hawaii

Children's Rights Institute

Christian Homeschoolers of Hawaii

Citizens for Recall

Cliff Slater's Second Opinion

Coffee Break

Conservative Forum for Hawaii

CSIS Pacific Forum

DAR Hawaii

DeedySupport.com

DVids Hawaii

E Hana Kakou Kelii Akina

E Māua Ola i Moku o Keawe

Farmers For Choice Hawaii

FIRE

Fix Oahu!

Follow the Money Hawaii

Frank in Hawaii

Front Page Magazine

Frontline: The Fixers

Genetic Literacy Project

Get Off Your Butts!

God, Freedom, America

Grassroot Institute

Habele.org

Hawaii Aganst Assisted Suicide

Hawaii Aquarium Fish Report

Hawaii Aviation Preservation Society

Hawaii Catholic TV

Hawaii Christian Coalition

Hawaii Cigar Association

Hawaii Coalition Against Legalized Gambling

Hawaii ConCon Info

Hawaii Credit Union Watch

Hawaii Crime Victims' Rights

Hawaii Crop Improvement Association

Hawaii Debt Clock

Hawaii Defending Marriage

Hawaii Defense Foundation

Hawaii Families for Educational Choice

Hawaii Family Advocates

Hawaii Family Forum

Hawaii Farmers and Ranchers United

Hawaii Farmer's Daughter

Hawaii Federalist Society

Hawaii Federation of Republican Women

Hawaii Firearm Community

Hawaii Fishermen's Alliance

Hawaii Future Project

Hawaii Gathering of Eagles

Hawaii History Blog

Hawaii Homeschool Association

Hawaii Jihadi Trial

Hawaii March for Life

Hawaii Meth Project

Hawaii's Partnership for Appropriate & Compassionate Care

Hawaii Public Charter School Network

Hawaii Rifle Association

Hawaii Right to Life -- Big Island

Hawaii Right to Life -- Oahu

Hawaii Senate Informer

Hawaii Shield Law Coalition

Hawaii Shippers Council

Hawaii Smokers Alliance

Hawaii State Data Lab

Hawaii Together

Heritage Foundation

HI Coalition Against Legalized Gambling

HIEC.Coop

Hiram Fong Papers

Homeschool Legal Defense Hawaii

Honolulu Homeless Crisis

Honolulu Navy League

Honolulu Traffic

Horns of Jericho Blog

House Minority Blog

House Republican Caucus YouTube

HPACC

Hump Day Report

Hunting, Farming and Fishing Assoc.

I Vote Hawaii

If Hawaii News

Inouye-Kwock, NYT 1992

Inside the Nature Conservancy

Inverse Condemnation

Investigative Project on Terrorism

Iowa Meets Maui

Jackson v Abercrombie

Jihad Watch

Judgepedia Hawaii

July 4 in Hawaii

Kahle v New Hope

Kakaako Cares

Kau TEA Party

Kauai Co GOP

Keep Hawaii's Heroes

KeyWiki

Land and Power in Hawaii

Legislative Committee Analysis Tool

Lessons in Firearm Education

Lingle Years

Malulani Foundation

Managed Care Matters -- Hawaii

Malama Pregnancy Center of Maui

Mauna Kea Recreational Users Group

MentalIllnessPolicy.org

Middle East Forum--The Legal Project

Mililani Conservatives for Change

Military Home Educators' Network Oahu

Missile Defense Advocacy

MIS Veterans Hawaii

Muslim Brotherhood in America

NAMI Hawaii

NARTH

Natatorium.org

National Christian Foundation Hawaii

National Parents Org Hawaii

National Wind Watch

New Zeal

NFIB Hawaii News

No GMO Means No Aloha

Northwest Economic Policy Seminar

Not Dead Yet, Hawaii

Now What I Really Think

NRA-ILA Hawaii

Oahu Alternative Transport

ObamaCare Abortion Hawaii

OHA Lies

Ohana Policy Group

OurFutureHawaii.com

Pacific Aviation Museum

Patients Rights Council Hawaii

PEACE Hawaii

People vs Machine

Pritchett Cartoons 

Pro-GMO Hawaii

P.U.E.O.

RailRipoff.com

Rental by Owner Awareness Assn

Republican Party -- Hawaii State

Research Institute for Hawaii USA

Rick Hamada Show

RJ Rummel

Robotics Organizing Committee

Salvage The Rail

Save the Plastic Bag

School Choice in Hawaii

SenatorFong.com

SIFE Remington

SIFE W. Oahu 

Sink the Jones Act

Smart About Marijuana--Hawaii

St Marianne Copenull

State Budget Solutions Hawaii

State Policy Network

Statehood for Guam

Tax Foundation of Hawaii

TEA Party Maui

TFB Micronesia

The Harriet Tubman Agenda

The Long War Journal

The Real Hanabusa

Time Out Honolulu

Truth About Trade & Technology - Hawaii

UCC Truths

Union Members Know Your Rights

United Veterans Hawaii

US Tax Foundation Hawaii Info

Valor in the Pacific

VAREP Honolulu

Waagey.org

West Maui Taxpayers Association

What Natalie Thinks

Whole Life Hawaii

Yes2TMT