Lingle strives to release needed funds sensibly
Saturday's editorial, "Speed up decisions on grants to groups that help Hawaii," contains inaccuracies and shows misunderstanding of the state's current budget situation and overall budget process, and goes against the need to maintain fiscal responsibility and prudent management of taxpayers' money.
The Legislature approved grants-in-aid to nonprofits and funds for school repairs based on the Council on Revenues' March 2007 projections. Since then, the council lowered revenue projections five times, reducing its general forecast by $2.5 billion over six years.
On May 29, the council lowered fiscal year 2008 projections from 3.9 percent to 3.3 percent. This translates to $27 million less revenue in the next 30 days, not the next fiscal year, as reported in the Star-Bulletin. In addition, the council lowered its FY09 forecast by $129 million, an important fact the editorial omitted.
Democratic legislators' claim that Gov. Linda Lingle is not releasing grants gives the public a false impression, and ignores reduced revenue projections. Of $10.1 million in operating grants appropriated in FY07, the governor released $5,130,653 to 30 nonprofits, not 17 as reported. An additional $8.5 million in capital improvement grants was released in May.
Unfortunately, the Legislature put more people at risk by denying more than $46 million in grants from nearly 40 organizations this past legislative session.
Lawmakers compounded the situation by restricting $28.2 million in federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds. This federal money will sit idle in a reserve and can only be used for cash assistance payments to welfare families in future years rather than for social programs that can help people immediately and reduce factors that might cause individuals and families to fall into poverty. Unlike grants, TANF funds are awarded based on a transparent request for proposal process, and are carefully monitored with strict reporting requirements.
If members of the Legislature want to help our most vulnerable residents while maintaining our state's fiscal integrity, they should make it their highest priority to lift the restriction on TANF anti-poverty funds when they reconvene in January 2009.
Regarding the release of funds to repair schools, the Star-Bulletin stated that the administration "kept back ($140 million for school repairs) because revenues came in lower than expected." This overlooks the fact that legislators appropriated these funds as cash from the state's general fund. This approach would be more palpable if revenues were expected to be high; however, using cash for capital improvements when projected revenues are low is not fiscally prudent. For this reason, the governor proposed, and the Legislature correctly approved this session, converting the $140 million to bond financing.
Claims that the governor is not releasing funds for schools are false. During the past fiscal year, she released more than $150 million for school repairs, improvements and new construction, and continues to do so on a prudent basis.
In addition, this administration is investing in the long-overdue modernization of the state's infrastructure as evidenced by the $2.3 billion airports modernization, $710 million harbors modernization, highway upgrades, and improvements to small boat harbors and state parks.
And why politicize and grandstand? The governor would welcome meaningful discussions with legislators. The type of public display that occurred Thursday does not serve the public well.
The administration's prudent, responsible process is vital to protect the public's financial resources and maintain a strong financial condition, now and into the future.
Barry Fukunaga is chief of staff for the office of Gov. Linda Lingle.