Council passes $2.76B budget
The City Council approved the city's operating and capital budgets yesterday, totaling $2.76 billion for the fiscal year beginning July 1, an increase of $335 million over last year.
Property tax rates will remain the same. However, the property tax credit for homeowners was cut in half this year to $100, compared with last year.
The City Council kept -- and, in some cases, increased spending for -- most of the proposals included in Mayor Mufi Hannemann's version of the budget submitted in March, including $265.1 million for the elevated rail transit system, $121 million for highway and street improvements, and $232 million for garbage and sewers.
The Council-approved budgets are $9.2 million higher than what Hannemann proposed, the result of shuffling funds by cutting some vacant funded positions, adding in members' desired projects and increasing expenses of original proposals.
Some increases were at the request of the Hannemann administration, including nearly $40 million to build a new waste-to-energy plant.
Councilmembers acknowledged that taxpayers are facing tough financial times with the rising prices of gas and food. Some called the $954.8 million capital and $1.8 billion budgets "prudent," while others criticized the city's spending habits.
"We're really down to a bare-bones budget," said Council Chairwoman Barbara Marshall. "We really don't have a lot of control over certain items in the budget. Of course, it's going to increase year after year."
City ads spur disclosure bill
The city is required to disclose any advertisements paid using taxpayer dollars under legislation passed yesterday by the City Council.
City Councilman Charles Djou introduced the bill after hearing several city-paid ads on the $3.7 billion mass transit system, which Djou opposes.
"It is not directed per se at the mass transit advertisements, but obviously because of all those city ads, that prompted the introduction of this bill," Djou said. "City taxpayers deserve to know when the city government is using their money for propaganda."
Under the legislation, any advertisements paid with taxpayer dollars must include a statement that says, "Paid for (or paid in part) by the taxpayers of the City and County of Honolulu." This would apply to radio, television and printed ads.
The Hannemann administration had opposed the measure, saying it is unnecessary. "It is a redundant bill," said Jeff Coelho, director of the city Department of Customer Services, noting that most ads are free public service announcements. He also pointed out that printed ads already contained the city seal.
The bill goes to Mayor Mufi Hannemann for consideration.
Councilman Charles Djou, a frequent critic of the city's spending who voted against both budgets, commended the Budget Committee for making some spending reductions in the operating budget but said it was not enough.
"I'm going to stand for a matter of principle," Djou said. "We're spending way too much money that is unsustainable. I am not ready to put this additional debt on the residents of the City and County of Honolulu."
Hannemann has expressed frequent frustration at Djou's pattern of voting against city budgets, saying his opposition means he also does not support projects -- including those in his district in East Honolulu and Waikiki.
"East Honolulu and Waikiki residents should rest assured that the other Council members and the administration are making sure their needs are met," Hannemann, who is off island, said in a news release. "It's very unfortunate that Council member Djou continually relies on others to carry his water."
Council members Ann Kobayashi and Donovan Dela Cruz voted against the operating budget as well, saying they believe the Council could have reduced more vacant funded positions.
"This year is turning out to be a very difficult year not only for residents of our city, but of the nation as well," Kobayashi said. "I am disappointed that we didn't cut more vacant funded positions."
The two were also disappointed there was no increase in the property tax credit. Dela Cruz said he had proposed increases during the budget process several times but was ignored.