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Lawmakers will work overtime for budget


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POSTED: Saturday, May 02, 2009

With services and programs cut, taxes raised and a fight with Gov. Linda Lingle looming, the state Legislature readied itself last night to go home on Friday, two days later than scheduled.

The biggest project, a state budget with $800 million in cuts, cleared the House and Senate conference committee with only Republican leader Sen. Fred Hemmings voting no.

The budget, $10.4 billion in general funds over the next two years, could only balance with an estimated $300 million in new state taxes and the infusion of nearly $1 billion in federal stimulus funds.

A series of previously passed tax increases on state income, hotel rooms, cigarettes and real estate sales are awaiting consideration by Gov. Linda Lingle.

Lingle reinforced her promise to veto those taxes.

“;I'll veto any tax increase except those related to tobacco, which I'll take a close look at,”; she said yesterday.

The Democratic majority in the House and Senate thus voted last night to extend the session until Friday so they will have time to override her vetoes. They hope the extension will comply with a state constitutional technicality that requires the governor to veto bills before the end of the legislative session if the bills were passed 10 days or more before the end of the session.

The tax bills were passed last week and did not meet that deadline, so the Democrats in the Legislature extended the session by two days.

“;There is only one purpose for extending this session, and that's so the Democrat majority would be in a position to override Gov. Linda Lingle's vetoes of tax measures,”; Rep. Cynthia Thielen (R, Kailua) said in floor debate last night.

“;This is about the balance and separation of powers. This is about checks and balances,”; answered Rep. Blake Oshiro (D, Aiea-Halawa).

When Rep. Marcus Oshiro, Finance Committee chairman, and Sen. Donna Mercado Kim, Ways and Means Committee chairwoman, unveiled the compromise version of the bill yesterday afternoon, they said the bill will not balance the budget without the accompanying tax bills.

Still, the budget has been cut to the extent that the state will spend less in the next two fiscal years then it has in the past two years.

“;In times like this, the budget is going to disappoint everyone,”; Oshiro (D, Wahiawa-Poamoho) said.

“;We are going to cut services that will have real impacts to people. We are going to raise fees and taxes. I doubt we will have a single person out there who is going to congratulate us and tell me, 'Good job, Marcus.'”;

The budget did restore some of the original budget cuts that Lingle had made, including $5.7 million in adult dental health care payments and $3 million to the Healthy Start program.

But the Legislature's version of the bill chopped 120 vacant positions with an estimated savings of $7 million and cut 10 filed positions, which Kim and Oshiro said were jobs done by either deputy directors or public relations spokesmen, for a savings of $1 million.

Both Kim and Oshiro noted that even if the budget and the state tax increases all pass, the state is still not out of financial trouble.

The nearly $1 billion in federal money is a one-time-only grant, they noted, meaning the state will have to come up with another $1 billion in state money by 2011.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.