Schatz named to Appropriations Committee

Hawaii once again holds a seat at the table where key decisions are made about how federal money is distributed within the 50 states.

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Hawaii once again holds a seat at the table where key decisions are made about how federal money is distributed within the 50 states.

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz has been appointed to a coveted seat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, the Democratic leadership announced Friday. This “power committee” determines how funds are allocated to government departments, agencies and organizations, and is responsible for supplemental spending bills.

Schatz told West Hawaii Today by phone from Washington that the position allows him to make sure Hawaii gets its fair share. Schatz said the island’s highways and harbors will be a chief focus and that he will work to funnel available highway funds toward the island.

“The political environment in Washington has changed but one thing that hasn’t changed is that Hawaii continues to need federal investments,” Schatz said. “This position allows me to advocate for key infrastructure.”

“Harbors are under-rated, but we get the lion’s share of our goods via shipping containers, so it is vital to make sure our harbor infrastructure is up to par,” he said.

Todd Belt, a professor of U.S. politics at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, said the appointment is nothing less than a coup.

“This is huge,” Belt said. “These positions are usually reserved for those who have been in power for a long time. They bring in the money.”

Hawaii traditionally held a comfortable seat at the appropriations table through the late Sen. Daniel Inouye, the Senate’s second-longest serving member and a war hero known for using his sway to bring federal dollars to Hawaii. But Hawaii lost its seniority in the Senate with the death of Inouye and the retirement of Sen. Daniel Akaka in 2012.

Schatz was sworn into office in 2012 to replace Inouye — an appointment that was reconfirmed by public vote this past election.

Under Inouye’s tenure as the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Hawaii was by far the highest-ranked state in per capita federal earmark spending, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense.

Schatz acknowledged that Inouye left huge shoes to fill, and said he was honored by the trust put in him by his colleagues.

Projects like Saddle Road, now referred to as the Daniel K. Inouye Highway, and Pearl Harbor stand to benefit from Schatz’s appointment, Belt predicted.

Unlike the U.S. House of Representatives, the Senate process allows riders to be more easily attached to bills, Belt said. That means the lawmakers with their fingers on the purse strings can include pet projects for their constituents.

“He will be able to get things done,” Belt said.

Retired Adm. Thomas Fargo, former commander of the United States Pacific Command, said in a statement that the appropriations post is a significant one for Hawaii and the rest of the nation.

“This appointment so early in his career speaks to the fact that Sen. Schatz has earned the respect of his Senate colleagues and is increasingly effective in Washington,” Fargo said.

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Schatz was also one of three Democrats appointed to the Senate Select Committee on Ethics. He will retain his seats on the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation and the Committee on Indian Affairs.

The full Senate will hold a vote on the appointments in early January.

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