SURPLUS IS GONE
Hopes that much of the state's extra $700 million would be returned to taxpayers evaporate
Most of the state's $700 million surplus has been spent, according to budget leaders in the state House.
All but $18 million has gone to state programs, emergencies and tax cuts, said Rep. Marcus Oshiro (D, Wahiawa-Poamoho), Finance Committee chairman.
The biggest portion, $195 million, went to increases in health and human service programs, Oshiro said.
Gov. Linda Lingle had asked for more than $300 million in tax cuts, but the Legislature is budgeting just $49 million in direct tax cuts and calculates a 10-cents-a-gallon drop in excise taxes on gasoline will add an additional $30 million in tax help.
The tax cuts are designed to help the poor and the lower middle class, with those making $50,000 and above in one bill and $60,000 and above in another bill getting no tax breaks.
Some of the high-ticket items in this year's budget include $66 million for increases in Medicaid and Quest payments and $18 million more for emergency medical services.
The public schools picked up an extra $50 million for repair and maintenance, $40 million for aid to schools through the weighted student formula and $25 million more for food.
The Legislature yesterday also started the process of overriding at least six of Lingle's 12 vetoes.
Surplus reaches far and wide
Schools, health and maintenance will get a boost in funding
SESSION SET TO ADJOURN TOMORROW
Nearly all of the state's $700 million two-year surplus will go for extra help to both existing and new state programs.
An estimated $49 million will go to tax cuts for low- and moderate-income residents and another $30 million is earmarked for a 10-cents-a-gallon reduction in gasoline taxes.
According to figures released by the House Finance Committee, the biggest increase goes to higher payments for QUEST and Medicaid fees for services. Another $20 million is for increased Medicaid home and community-based services and another $17.6 million goes to restore federal cuts in Medicaid.
The House and Senate passed the $20 billion, two-year budget yesterday with more rhetoric than drama, as out of the 76 lawmakers, only Republican Sens. Sam Slom and Gordon Trimble voted no.
Several legislators said the tax cuts were not big enough. Supporters of cutting taxes had their hopes raised by Gov. Linda Lingle, who in January urged $346 million in tax cuts.
Lingle said yesterday she would return next year with another tax-cut bill, because this year's changes fell short.
"The biggest disappointment for me ... was the really, fairly small amount of tax relief that came out of the budget in the end," said Minority Floor Leader Colleen Meyer (R, Laie-Kahuku).
Democrat Rep. Della Au also criticized the size of the tax cuts, saying legislative leaders could have been "more aggressive with the tax-relief package."
Public education also benefited from the extra money, as lawmakers found $190 million more to give to running the state's public schools.
The biggest portion was $50 million more for repairs and maintenance. There was also an extra $24 million for school bus service. Extra miscellaneous expenses added up to $20 million, according to the House Finance Committee.
The Senate Republican leader, Fred Hemmings, called the DOE "a continuing economic abyss," saying the extra money had not translated to better school performance.
Also included was an extra $26 million in emergency appropriations, including extra money for repairs due to the October Big Island earthquake.
The Legislature also added $5 million for the planning and design of one or more new prisons on the Big Island.
Legislators in their committee report lectured Lingle, saying, "Every passing day delays the availability of modern and efficient correctional facilities in the state."
Lingle has said it was her policy not to build any new prisons and instead transfer inmates to mainland facilities.
The state budget includes $7 million more for housing inmates out of state.
The state budget also added on new building projects with the use of state bonds, instead of cash. The biggest construction project is $135 million for the University of Hawaii at West Oahu, first proposed 35 years ago.
Also up for funding is a $42 million library and learning center for Windward Community College.
The entire UH system is also slated for $32 million in repairs and maintenance.