Legislators trim $44.7M
Social services pinched as legislators cut cash
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Lawmakers pointed to a weak state economy yesterday as the Legislature sliced almost $45 million out of the state budget. The cuts will hurt programs aimed at helping the poor and private social service agencies.
Besides the budget, lawmakers voted on hundreds of bills yesterday, the deadline for final votes on measures crafted over this session's past four months.
Among those approved:
» HB 661: Create a pilot project to use public money from the Campaign Spending Commission to fund Hawaii County Council elections in 2010.
» HB 2438: Requires that cigarettes sold in Hawaii after 2009 are made with "fire-safe" paper that does not burn easily.
» HB 2847: Expands the conditions for getting a conditional driver's license after a DUI conviction to include going to doctor or dentist appointments or taking care of someone who cannot drive.
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The state's weakened economy forced legislators to cut $44.7 million out of a $5.3 billion state budget.
In a break with a decade-long practice, the budget bill that passed yesterday includes no money for social service groups, the Honolulu Symphony and other private operations.
Legislators said there was no money for them.
"We also realized that the governor does not support these organizations and would not release the funds even if they were appropriated," Sen. Roz Baker said in a floor speech on the bill, HB 2500.
The budget conference committee noted that Gov. Linda Lingle last year refused to release $10 million in funds appropriated by the Legislature for 66 social service organizations.
While Republicans expressed reservations, Democrats stressed the need to be conservative in tough economic times.
The GOP criticized Democrats for underfunded charter schools, for setting aside $22 million in federal welfare funds and for not giving back more money to taxpayers in previous years when the economy was booming.
"I feel that we didn't set our priorities properly back then and now we find ourselves in a different situation," said Minority Floor Leader Colleen Meyer (R, Laie-Kahuku). "What this budget does not have is a message investing in people."
Said Democratic Rep. Joe Souki, the speaker emeritus, "It seems those that want to spend are across the aisle. They seem to have taken the roles of liberals and we've taken the role of conservatives.
"I'm still a liberal, and I'm proud of that. I want to spend where it's needed and when it's needed."
Rep. Marcus Oshiro (D, Wahiawa-Poamoho), the finance chairman, said the budget prioritizes areas of education, health and human services and public safety, but also recognizes that revenues are growing at a slower rate than in previous years.
The Legislature unilaterally lowered the revenue estimate used to predict future tax collection growth from 3.9 percent to 3.5 percent, because of concerns that the recent downturn in the Hawaii economy would be reflected in lower tax collections. That still represents an almost 1 percent increase over last year's budget.
Republican Sen. Sam Slom (R, Diamond Head-Hawaii Kai) said even with the cuts, the state budget was too big.
"While we bemoan the fact that our economy was slowing and our people are having a difficult time, we lose sight of where this money comes from.
"This is not our money. We continue spending their money. The only money this government gets is the money it takes away from you," Slom said.
On the construction side of the budget, the University of Hawaii system is getting $71 million for repair and maintenance, and the public schools get an extra $66 million.
Oshiro noted that the Legislature's budget gives charter schools $57.7 million.
"That's $1.6 million more than the governor provided in her budget and $6.1 million more than they are currently receiving," Oshiro said.