A disagreement between two Hawaii legislators has left $175 million in revenue bond proceeds aimed at preserving agricultural land stranded, according to a report from the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
The state budget contains the revenue bond money for the Agribusiness Development Corp. to potentially acquire farmland owned by Dole Food Co. in Wahiawa on Oahu.
But a separate bill was needed to create a special fund in order to deposit the proceeds from the bond sales, the revenue from leases on farmers that would have backed the bonds, and the money to cover debt service on the bonds, according to the news report.
The crux of the disagreement between Rep. Jessica Wooley and Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz is that Wooley wanted the state Department of Agriculture, not the Agribusiness Development Corp., in charge. Dela Cruz and Luis Salaveria, the state’s deputy budget director, explained that the Agribusiness Development Corp. was the agency identified in the state budget.
Wooley finally agreed, but she suggested other late amendments that would have adjusted the definition of “important agricultural land,” a move opposed by the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation, so senators walked away from the negotiations Friday afternoon as an internal deadline approached.
Wooley said she was willing to compromise by using the Agribusiness Development Corp. instead of the Department of Agriculture, but she was concerned about what might happen to the Dole land, so she wanted to clarify the definition of “important agricultural land.”
“I thought we were pretty close,” Wooley told the newspaper on Monday. “Obviously, we didn’t quite get there.”
Farmers supported the bond money for the Dole land acquisition but did not want lawmakers to tinker with the definition of “important agricultural land,” especially under the pressure of conference committee negotiations with a deadline approaching.
Sen. Clarence Nishihara, D-Waipahu-Pearl City, lead Senate negotiator on the bill and chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, told the newspaper that he hopes the bill will be proposed again next session so the bond money can be used.
But he said he would prefer that the legislation first go through Dela Cruz’s Senate Economic Development, Government Operations and Housing Committee, giving Dela Cruz jurisdiction and potentially sparing him from another round with Wooley.