Speed up decisions on grants to groups that help Hawaii
As revenue projections decline, the state administration is holding on to its cash.
Sometime in the next month, community and nonprofit groups will find out if funds allocated to them by the state Legislature last year will actually show up in their bank accounts.
Public schools also are awaiting word about appropriations pegged for overdue repairs and maintenance, estimated to cost $412 million.
With revenue collections falling short of projections and forecasts of slowing growth through this year and next, Gov. Linda Lingle has kept a tight lock on the state's strongbox.
Even as she has waxed optimistic about Hawaii's economic outlook and noted that the islands haven't seen the deficits other states have, the governor is pinching pennies.
Prudence is good policy, but groups have been waiting too long - more than a year - while the administration combs through their programs to determine if they deserve to receive their shares of $10.1 million in grants lawmakers approved in 2007. Of 70 operating grants, the governor has released funds for 17. If not cleared by the governor by the end of June, the funds will lapse.
Her media spokesman explained that Lingle and budget officials are reviewing how often an organization has received grants, whether it has tried to get private funding and if it has tried to stand on its own financial feet and cut reliance on state grants.
Self-reliance is good policy for organizations, but the administration also might take a look at the benefits the groups deliver since their services fill gaps in the social network and contribute to arts and cultural activities.
Meanwhile, public schools have seen progress in reducing the backlog of repairs that in 2001 totaled a whopping $720 million. However, in the past two years, the accumulation of projects has increased 20 percent due, in part, to the administration's withholding of appropriations.
In fiscal 2007 and 2008, $140 million of $310 million was kept back because revenues came in lower than expected. Though the administration has been working with the Department of Education to identify projects necessary for health and safety, what is left unfixed will only get worse over time, which is why repair costs had been so inflated in years past.
Hawaii has been fortunate so far to escape budget emergencies that states such as California and Florida are experiencing because of fallout from the housing bust and mortgage meltdowns. But with economists predicting a prolonged decline nationwide, forecasts of revenue growth for Hawaii have been downgraded. Taking into consideration a decline in air service and tourism, as well as sharp increases in gasoline, food and utility prices, the state is expected to take in about $27 million less in the next fiscal year.