Fight for Public Land Trust revenue continues

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OHA’s new film “Justice Delayed is Justice Denied,” which is now available to view at www.oha.org/PLT, describes the longstanding fight to ensure that the State of Hawaiʻi fulfills its commitment to the Native Hawaiian people stemming from the loss their ancestral lands.

Photo: John Waihe‘e
Former Hawaiʻi Governor John Waiheʻe is one of the people featured in OHA’s film “Justice Delayed is Justice Denied.” – Courtesy of 4 Miles

Below is a quick refresher on the issue.

What’s the difference between ceded lands and the Public Land Trust?

“Ceded Lands” comprise about 1.8 million acres of former crown and government lands of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi that were “ceded” to the United States at the time of the annexation of Hawai‘i in 1898. Today, under the federal Admission Act, over 1 million of these acres and associated natural resources, and the revenue generated from them, comprise the “Public Land Trust” (PLT). PLT lands make up a large portion of the overall “Ceded Lands.”

Why is the PLT important to Native Hawaiians?

First, as mentioned above, the PLT includes more than 1 million acres of the Native Hawaiian people’s ancestral lands. Second, the state constitution and laws together establish OHA’s right to a share of the revenues from the trust, which OHA uses to benefit Native Hawaiians. PLT funds enable OHA to provide services to the Native Hawaiian community through advocacy, research, community engagement, land management and the funding of community programs and scholarships.

What share of the PLT do Native Hawaiians have a claim to?

While state law requires that OHA expend 20 percent of all PLT revenues, for decades OHA and the state disagreed on how to calculate the 20 percent amount.

After significant litigation and the state stopping all PLT transfers to OHA, in 2006, OHA and the state agreed on Act 178, which established the Native Hawaiian people’s temporary annual amount at $15.1 million “until further action is taken by the legislature.” Act 178 also requires state agencies to report all PLT revenues to the Legislature each year.

What does the recent data show about funds generated from PLT lands?

Over the last five fiscal years, the state agencies’ self-reported data show that 20 percent of the total receipts generated from PLT land is actually more than $33 million annually. Compare this amount to the $15.1 million received annually by OHA on behalf of Native Hawaiians since 2006.

Moreover, the state’s payments to OHA have exceeded $15.1 million in each fiscal year since 2013. As a result, OHA has had to return nearly $17 million in transferred PLT funds to the state.

Because the state’s data show that OHA receives less than half of the reported 20 percent of gross receipts from PLT land and annual payments by the state have exceeded the $15.1 million cap since 2013, the temporary $15.1 million amount established over 10 years ago is no longer fair and should be re-evaluated.

What is currently being done to address the PLT issue?

In response to the adoption of a legislative resolution (HCR188) in 2016, the Governor has convened a committee comprised of himself, OHA and the leaders of the House and Senate to discuss what is the Native Hawaiian people’s fair share of PLT revenue. This committee met once, in October 2016, and has not been reconvened. A report with findings and recommendations are due to the Legislature before the 2018 session.