EXCLUSIVE: Costs for lieutenant governor's Maui office soar
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - When Shan Tsutsui became the first-ever Hawaii Lieutenant Governor to open a neighbor island satellite office, his initial funding request was for $317,000.
But since then, the costs have more than doubled to nearly $700,000.
Hawaii News Now has learned that the state sheriffs have budgeted another $276,000 to provide security for state government's No. 2 executive for his trips to Maui.
And last year, the state Legislature appropriated another $101,000 for staffing and office and travel expenses for the Maui office.
"Why can't those needs be met just as well from the island of Oahu," said Kelii Akina, President of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii.
"It raises the question of how the money is being spent and what the purpose of that money is."
Tsutsui, whose family lives on Maui, said he uses the office to meet with community groups and Maui's political leaders. He believes the office is needed to provide the same services for neighbor islanders that Oahu residents enjoy.
"I think that the cost that's associated with that is a cost that I personally feel comfortable with," said Tsutsui, a former state Senate President.
"I don't believe it's too much."
A spokeswoman for Tsutsui could not say how many days he spends on Maui but confirmed that he doesn't personally serve Maui residents with traditional Secretary of State functions.
That's because his office hasn't been able to hire a Maui staffer due to budget constraints.
And that office, located in the state building in Kahului, doesn't even have its own phone lines installed.
Until recently, Tsutsui used a second Maui office in the nearby county building in Kahului, which the state rents for $1 a year.
Critics said the escalating costs could play a role in the closely contested Lt. Governor’s primary race. Tsutsui faces state Sen. Clayton Hee in the Aug. 9 Democratic primary.
"Whether or not that's needed by Lieutenant Governor, whether it's worth this much money, that's something voters will have a say on in the upcoming primary," said John Hart, Hawaii Pacific University Professor.
Copyright 2014 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.