Public schools bear too much of state's revenue worries
The Lingle administration is withholding $110 million budgeted for school repairs.
GOV. Linda Lingle's decision to hold back nearly half of the funds allotted for public school repairs
places an undue burden on the one institution that most taxpayers would want to see fully financed.
Though the administration should be cautious with spending in the face of short revenue collections, forcing schools to delay fixing lights and floor tiles will only exacerbate problems and cost more to repair down the road.
If nothing else, the governor should accept the Department of Education's proposal to redirect the release of some of the money set for classroom renovations to more critical infrastructure repairs, such as roofing and restrooms.
However, withholding $110 million of the $235 million the state Legislature approved for school upgrades snatches too much from one department's pocket.
The administration warned state agencies last month hat their funds would be released in portions because tax collections were not meeting projections.
In what is probably the biggest -- and most consequential -- guessing game in the state, the Council on Revenues predicted in March that tax collections would grow 6 percent. On that forecast, legislators cleared a two-year, $10.5 billion budget, which they said was conservative because of doubts about the Council's numbers.
In May the panel, made up of reputable economists, revised its projection down to 4 percent. Still, tax collections came in at 3.4 percent or $115 million below the forecast.
Concerned that the slumping trend will continue, the administration is releasing only first-quarter funds for state departments.
It also will not give over until January $43 million in grants lawmakers approved for nonprofit groups, such as the Hawaii County Economic Opportunity Council, Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation, Parents and Children Together, the Hawaii Home Ownership Center and various charitable and cultural organizations.
The money the governor is withholding from schools, which nearly equals the revenue shortfall, will mean 55 of 96 campuses that are at the head of a long line for repairs will have to wait eight months, if not longer, to have them done.
School repairs and maintenance should be among the last projects the administration squeezes off. Even though revenues might increase and loosen the hold on funds later on, school repairs have been set on the back burner for years, increasing the costs of work incrementally.
The administration should first constrict funding for other agencies, few of which have functions more crucial than public education.