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Friday, March 10, 2000

Legislature 2000

House passes
supplemental budget

Bills survive that would return cash to counties

By Pat Omandam


A $6.43 billion 2000-01 supplemental budget represents the House's "continued investment in human capital," says Finance Chairman Dwight Takamine.

Increased spending was to meet growing fixed costs in education, health and human services, Takamine said. Those fixed payments include $56 million for the Employees Retirement System, $20 million for health fund premiums and $9 million for debt service.

"Our best policy is to stay the course," Takamine said. "Fiscal responsibility -- living within our means -- has to be our policy because of the large fiscal obligations we face in the years beyond 2003."

The state faces $2 billion in declining revenue over the next six years as a result of tax cuts passed over the past two years.

Takamine (D, Hilo) outlined the House financial plan yesterday. It increases state budget spending by an overall 3 percent in the last year of $12 billion biennium budget passed last year. Still, the budget is less than the amount requested by Gov. Ben Cayetano in his executive budget, he said.

The House passed the supplemental budget yesterday with the only no votes coming from Jim Rath (R, Kailua-Kona) and Chris Halford (R, Kihei). House minority members criticized the House Democrats for lacking vision in economic reform and not doing enough to downsize big government.

House Minority Floor Leader David Pendleton (R, Kailua) challenged the notion that fixed costs cannot be cut to streamline government. That money could be used for desperately needed school repair and maintenance projects, he said.

"This is a work in progress," Pendleton said. "I think we can do better."

Education remains the House's top priority.

The Department of Education's operating budget was increased by $21 million for a total operating budget of $1.02 billion. Some of the money is to comply with the Felix consent decree.

At the University of Hawaii, the House increased the UH's general fund budget by $6 million. It added funding for high technology measures such as $1 million to the UH medical school for a molecular genetics program, $1 million to prepare community college students to enter the high-technology workforce and $1.6 million to renovate the old Bank of Hawaii building in downtown Hilo into a "smart building" that has meeting rooms and video and voice teleconferencing capabilities.

Also approved was $1 million in general obligation bonds for a new laser research lab at Watanabe Hall on the UH-Manoa campus. The Rockwell International Corporation has donated $9 million in laser equipment to the university.

Combined, funding for the DOE and UH makes up 47 percent of the state's general fund budget. That's putting the money where its needed the most, said state Rep. Mark Takai (D, Pearl City).

On the health and human services front, the House added $2 million, for a total of $96.2 million, to provide child and adolescent mental health services and to comply with the Felix consent decree. An additional $4.2 million was earmarked to reduce the waiting list for home- and community-based waiver services for persons with developmental disabilities or mental retardation.

Maui Memorial Hospital was earmarked for $38 million in general obligation bonds for major improvements designed to generate more revenue.

The supplemental budget gives $7 million for the Hawaii Health Systems Corp. and another $2.5 million for the nonprofit Kahuku Hospital, Molokai General Hospital, Hana Health Center and the Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center.

The House budget has kept funding for the state Department of Human Services at about $1 billion.

There were no major changes to the state's construction budget passed last year.

"I believe the House's position clearly reflects the priorities of voters. We had to make some difficult choices in arriving at this balanced and fiscally responsible budget," Takamine said.

The Senate has until April 13 to make changes to the House version before the budget heads into conference committee for debate. The Legislature has until April 28 to ready the budget for final passage.

Legislature Directory
Legislature Bills & Hawaii Revised Statutes

Bills survive
that would return
cash to counties

By Gordon Y.K. Pang


A bill reimbursing the counties for paying state general excise taxes is one of three measures still alive in the state Legislature that city officials hope will bring extra money into municipal coffers.

The counties have lobbied for years to be exempt from paying excise tax on goods and services, arguing that it's particularly onerous given that the state exempts itself from paying property taxes to the counties.

City spokeswoman Carol Costa said the city pays between $26 million and $30 million annually in excise taxes.

Senate Bill 2308, which has moved to the House, calls for the counties to submit itemized claims detailing excise taxes that have been passed on to them by vendors of goods and services. The bill does not spell out a percentage of tax payments to be reimbursed.

Also moving to the House is Senate Bill 3104, which give counties a share of revenues from traffic and parking violations.

The counties argue that the state collects and keeps the revenues even though it relies on county-paid police to enforce traffic and parking violations. The bill calls for proceeds from a fine to go directly to the county where a traffic infraction occurred.

The counties have often called for getting back the fines paid in uncontested cases only since they do not require the services of the state-run court system.

Costa said about about 50 percent, roughly $5 million, of the cases are unadjudicated, not protested. City officials estimate it costs between $16 million and $18 million for the city to enforce parking and traffic laws.

A third bill that has crossed over from the House to the Senate would allow the counties to collect a portion of the public service company tax.

Public utilities are exempt from paying property taxes to the counties but do pay the state public service company taxes.

Costa said a proposed formula would net the city about $13.4 million in annual collections.

Legislature Directory
Legislature Bills & Hawaii Revised Statutes

Briefly . . .

CONFLICTING INTERESTS? State Sen. Marshall Ige has an obvious conflict of interest and shouldn't be allowed to vote on Earl Anzai's nomination as attorney general, Gov. Ben Cayetano says.

Ige (D, Maunawili-Kaneohe) was indicted in July by Anzai's predecessor, Margery Bronster, for alleged campaign law violations. He also led the effort last year to remove Bronster as attorney general and Anzai as budget director.

"It's a conflict of interest and I can predict right now how Sen. Ige will vote," Cayetano said yesterday. "As a result of the indictment against Sen. Ige, he sees the state attorney general as leading some kind of vendetta against him.

"I don't know how he could be not in conflict at that point."

Senate President Norman Mizuguchi reiterated yesterday he will allow Ige to vote.

Senate rules on conflicts of interest apply to situations where a senator has a personal financial interest in the outcome of a vote, said Mizuguchi (D, Moanalua Valley-Aiea-Pearlridge).

"This is a representative form of government and he represents a major constituency in his district," Mizuguchi said.

"I've allowed senators to vote on major issues, as well as advise and consent. He should vote and he can vote on this confirmation."

Cayetano said the standard when he was a state senator was that a conflict was declared when a legislator had a direct personal stake in what was being voted on. That's clearly the case with Ige, he said.

"He should recuse himself from voting," Cayetano said.

Ige said yesterday he wasn't ready to respond to calls for him to abstain from voting.

JUDGE CONFIRMED: The state Senate has confirmed Cayetano's appointment of veteran state public defender Richard Pollack to a 10-year term as a Circuit Court judge.

In recommending confirmation yesterday, Judiciary Committee Co-Chairman Matt Matsunaga (D, Waialae-Palolo) noted Pollack has a legendary command of Hawaii case law and has great community support.

During the confirmation hearing last week, Honolulu Prosecutor Peter Carlisle questioned if Pollack could be fair after 20 years representing poor people charged with crimes.

Pollack responded he would have no trouble imposing lengthy sentences on criminals he believes to be deserving of them..

Legislature Directory
Legislature Bills & Hawaii Revised Statutes

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