Understanding the Public Land Trust Bill

0
661

An Interview with Na‘unanikina‘u Kamali‘i, OHA Chief Advocate and Policy Director

What is the Public Land Trust legislation about?

The purpose of the Public Land Trust (PLT) legislation is to ensure that the State of Hawaiʻi fulfills its constitutional obligation to Native Hawaiians to: 1) account for all ceded lands in the public lands trust inventory, made up of former Hawaiian Kingdom and government lands; 2) account for all income and proceeds derived from the public land trust; and 3) transfer the full 20% pro rata share of revenues from the PLT annually to OHA to be used for the betterment of the conditions of Native Hawaiians.

Hawaiians never consented to the transfer of lands to the U.S. nor relinquished their right to benefit from these ceded lands.

To make matters worse, instead of receiving 20% of PLT revenues as required by law, Native Hawaiians only get about 3.8%. The PLT bill asks the legislature to stop short-changing Native Hawaiians.

Additionally, back payments for revenue underpaid to OHA for the past 10 years have accumulated into a large debt, which will continue to grow unless the state holds itself accountable to pay in full what is due annually.

Why is OHA asking for these funds now?

This is not a new request. Native Hawaiian leaders have been asking for a fair share of the PLT revenues since statehood. OHA was created to help fulfill the state’s constitutional obligation to Hawaiians. For decades OHA has demanded that the state transfer PLT funds to OHA for Native Hawaiians, and for decades the state has shirked its constitutional and legal obligation.

In 1980, OHA’s 20% share of PLT land revenue was codified into law (§HRS 10-13.5). It’s disturbing that the government has shamelessly refused to comply with its own constitution and laws.

For years, OHA received no PLT funds at all. In 2006, via Act 178, the legislature set an interim “cap” of $15.1 million as OHA’s annual share of PLT revenues until an accurate accounting of the revenues could be determined. Fast forward 16 years and that temporary “cap” is still in place. Meanwhile, PLT revenues have continued to grow.

According to an independent FY2015-2016 financial review, PLT revenues that year were $394.3 million. 20% of those revenues equals $78.9 million. That is the amount that Native Hawaiians are entitled to. And that is the amount OHA is asking to be paid. State legislators need to make pono an inequity that they, and their predecessors, have allowed to fester for 40 years.

How would taxpayers be affected if this bill passes and OHA is provided with the full 20% of the PLT revenues?

PLT revenues are not taxpayer monies. PLT income and proceeds are from the PLT lands under the state constitution and the Hawaiʻi Admission Act. Taxes collected by the state go into the general fund – a completely different bucket of money from the PLT revenues.

PLT revenues are reserved for 5(f) purposes under the Admission Act, one of which is bettering conditions of Native Hawaiians. OHA is not asking for an additional appropriation from the general fund – OHA is asking for 20% of the revenue generated by PLT lands to which Native Hawaiians are entitled by law.

It is true that other state agencies could be affected by budget shortfalls once OHA is allocated its full 20% share of PLT revenues. However, their budget shortfalls should not be subsidized by funds due to OHA. Those agencies need to ask the legislature for their own budget appropriations. The state needs to stop balancing its budget off of the backs of Native Hawaiians.

Why is there such controversy about Public Land Trust revenue receipts?

Without accurate and complete reporting of PLT revenues, it is difficult to determine OHA’s 20% share and the truth of the state’s financial condition. Not surprisingly, some agencies under-report the receipts they generate on PLT lands. Examples include the University of Hawaiʻi, Department of Health, and Department of Human Services.

Other agencies report PLT receipts but utilize “unusual” accounting systems. An example is the Department of Transportation – Harbors Division. They transferred $10 million in PLT revenues to OHA in fiscal years 2018, 2019 and 2020. Then in 2021, they transferred $9,999,999.99. That’s not an annual percentage of revenues. That’s an allowance.

Airport revenues are not included at all. In his address to Congress in 1997, Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, said “The airports continue to sit on ceded lands. The state’s obligation to compensate OHA for the use of the land upon which the airports sit should continue. The only difference would now be the source the state will draw upon to satisfy its obligation.”

As long as state agencies utilize different accounting methods to self-report the revenues generated by the PLT lands they steward, then it is likely that the actual amount owed to OHA will continue to be in dispute. And left unresolved, these agencies are able to keep the revenue for themselves instead of transferring it to OHA.

Is there anything else people should know about the PLT and OHA?

Over the past 10 years, OHA has allocated more than $113 million in grants to Native Hawaiian-serving organizations across the paeʻāina, and millions more in sponsorships and low-interest business and personal loans. Can you imagine what Native Hawaiians could achieve if OHA was fairly funded with 20% of PLT revenues?

OHA is fully capable of receiving and managing PLT funding to fulfill its mission to better the conditions of Native Hawaiians through grants, contracts, and memorandum of understanding.

LĀHUI SUPPORT

“Passage of this bill will lead to justice for the Native Hawaiian community and will result in the state honoring its commitments – commitments made in both the State Constitution and in the 1980 legislation setting OHA’s pro rata share at twenty percent. Resolving this issue is one of the most impactful and important actions this Legislature could take….Your action now would truly help to put the State on the path toward justice.”
– Melody Kapilialoha MacKenzie, JD

“OHA is a valuable funder for our organizations but is already so limited in what they can give. If the spirit of the original public lands law was for Native Hawaiians to receive a greater portion of the revenue from public lands (i.e., stolen lands) then it is wrong for there to continue to be such a low limit on how much funding directly reaches our community through OHA. I’m encouraged by OHA’s recent re-org and its greater focus on beneficiary services and grant-making. Now is the time for us (through them) to receive our fair share of what the ‘āina provides.”
– Keone Oldroyd

“This correction is long overdue. Increasing OHA’s pro rata share will increase its assistance to thousands of beneficiaries in numerous areas like education, housing, health, employment, economic stability and much more…Let OHA do what it was created to do.”
– Kapua Keliikoa-Kamai

“OHA was established in 1978 to serve as the manager of PLT revenues for the betterment of the conditions of Native Hawaiians – but has never been allocated its rightful share of PLT revenues. This is a wrong that needs to be corrected immediately. Native Hawaiians continue to suffer from large disparities…This missing money could help in rectifying this deplorable situation by supporting health, education and other social programs to lift our people into a better state of wellness and wellbeing.”
– Martina Kamaka, MD