State House budget calls for 374 layoffs


POSTED: Thursday, March 12, 2009

The state House Finance Committee is recommending budget cuts of $405 million and layoffs of 374 state workers.




Track it online

        The state budget is House Bill 200. The Judiciary budget is House Bill 300, and the OHA budget is House Bill 900. When the details for the budgets are complete, all three will be updated on the Legislature's Web site, www.capitol.hawaii.gov.



Cuts to the state's $22 billion, two-year budget are “;drastic,”; according to Rep. Marcus Oshiro, Finance Committee chairman.

The budget released yesterday is the first proposal to deal with the state's $650 million shortfall, since Gov. Linda Lingle said she would close the budget gap with raids on the rainy-day fund, the tobacco settlement and proposed cuts to state worker benefits.

Oshiro (D, Wahiawa-Poamoho) said Lingle's budget would not balance and offers up a dangerous financial gamble by attempting to close $200 million of the gap by refinancing state bonds.

“;It remains to be seen whether credit market conditions will be favorable for a refinancing of another $200 million in debt,”; Oshiro said in a speech to his committee members.

Oshiro also blasted Lingle for offering a budget that rules out tax increases or layoffs, both of which are included in the House proposal.

“;I am disturbed by the governor's sudden change of heart and unilateral decision to end open discussions ... and her proclamation that there will not be any layoffs or raising taxes,”; Oshiro said.

Lingle's office did not respond to calls for comment.

The budget cuts include eliminating three state programs and boards, including the Labor Department's Disability and Communications Board as well as the Career Kokua Program and the state Planning and Development Agency, both in the Health Department.

The bill, House Bill 200, also would trim 374 state workers, Oshiro said.

“;This budget takes what some would feel to be very drastic steps,”; Oshiro said. “;These are drastic steps that mirror an equally drastic fiscal shortfall. Serious times call for deliberate, well-thought actions.”;

The House tried to avoid any impact to front-line state workers who deal with the public, Oshiro said. But he said his committee cut excessive management and administrative layers of middle management and also eliminated exempt positions not performing core government functions, such as public relations or special assistants.

“;We may not be able to avoid laying off employees,”; Oshiro warned.

Although he also said that as the budget moves from the House this week to the Senate next week and then to conference committee, he wanted to “;consider all reasonable options that may allow us to reconsider the decisions we make today.”;

The Finance Committee also slashed the budget for the state Judiciary and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

The Judiciary's two-year budget was reduced 23 percent, or by $65 million. Oshiro cut money for pay raises for state judges and requests for $4.4 million for the new Kapolei Courthouse.

Also dropped were requests from the Judiciary to pay for increased electric bills, $9.3 million for the next two years.

Oshiro said the Judiciary and all state department were denied requests for electricity increases. Oshiro said the department will have to manage its budget and use existing funds to pay for increased expenses.

“;The financial crisis we face is real. I will not sugarcoat it nor dumb down the reality of what we face. To do so would be political malpractice,”; Oshiro said.


Proposed layoffs

Total positions cut 299.5 Total savings $18,688,222

Total layoffs according to the House budget are 374 state workers, with 299.5 coming from state general funds and the others temporary, part time or funded through other sources.

Department Positions cut Savings
Attorney General2$132,728
Human Services32$1,628,247
Public Safety8$617,580

Source: House Finance Committee