Cliff Slater's Second Opinion


Where's the beef in "pork"?

For years our ultra-liberal Congressional delegation has led us to believe that they really deliver the "pork." However, on close examination, we learn that not only does Hawaii not get our fair share of "pork" but-more importantly-that this "pork" is not beef.

The real value of "pork" is pennies on the dollar compared with real "beef" -that is, how we would spend our tax money ourselves if it were not dictated by a Washington bureaucracy. The question then is, where's the beef?

On a per capita basis Hawaii ranks 6th among the fifty states for federal spending in Hawaii. However, according to the U.S. Tax Foundation while we rank 3rd among the fifty states for defense spending we only rank 41st for non-defense spending. (1)

Hawaii's unique geographic location ensures that most U.S. defense spending in Hawaii will continue regardless of politics. Pearl Harbor, for example, will always be essential to our Navy as are Oahu airfields to the Air Force and Army. Hawaii defense spending is greater than, say, North Dakota due to our location not to the political expertise of our Congressional delegation.

Defense spending aside, we get back less funding from Washington than the taxes we send there, according to Lowell Kalapa of the Tax Foundation of Hawaii. (2) And, worse, when we get our money back, it comes with all kinds of strings attached. This means that we do not get to spend it as wisely as we might do if we had complete discretion with it. In other words, the "pork" is not beef.

For example, part of what counts as federal "pork" is the H-3 freeway-the Highway to Nowhere. It is inconceivable that we would have visited such blight on our land had the funding not been tied to take-it-or-leave-it federal dollars. H-3 has cost us $1,800,000,000, will have little impact on traffic, and has damaged the environment to boot.

Yes, it provided jobs but so would digging a very large hole in the ground, lining it with reinforced concrete and filling it up again. The residual value of a project-what it is really worth when all the construction jobs end-is what is important. The residual value of H-3 will be somewhat more than the hole in the ground but nowhere near as much as, say, widening the leeward corridor.

For example, the entire Kalanianiaole widening project cost us $37 million-just 2% of the H-3 cost. Had we been able to spend the H-3 money ourselves we would have-more sensibly-widened the H-1 and H-2 freeways. This would have cost far, far less than H-3 and would have had a major impact on the island's worst traffic problem.

We would also have enough left over for schoolbooks, fixing our broken sewers and hiring policemen. The fact is that $1,800,000,000 is a lot of money. That is, unless you are far away in Washington where it is a mere $1.8 billion and a minor item in the federal budget.

When our taxes come back from Washington it is rare for it to be spent as sensibly as if we spent it ourselves. North Shore windmills, so-called Small Business Development Centers in Hilo, or even federal welfare entitlements are not ways we would spend it ourselves. In short, "pork" is not beef.

What we need is to send our taxes to Washington only for truly national requirements, such as defense. It would be more sensible for us tax ourselves at the state and county level for our local needs. That way, for the same amount of taxes, we'll get less "pork" but a lot more beef.


(1) Per Capita Federal Government Expenditures. Defense and Non-Defense Expenditures by State, FY 1994. Tax Features: July 1996. Tax Foundation, Inc., Washington D.C.

(2) Personal communication. November 19, 1996.