By Richard Borreca
This year's Legislature is all about money: deciding how much to spend for new projects, how much to give public employees and how much to give back to taxpayers.
Encouraged by rising projections from the state Council on Revenues, Gov. Ben Cayetano plans to offer a state budget increase of more than 11 percent.
Cayetano has set out a glamorous set of high-cost items, ranging from $27.5 million for computers in the schools to $141 million for a new University of Hawaii Medical School facility in Kakaako.
But before Cayetano or the Legislature can peel off the dollars for those projects, the state must come up with wage increases to public workers and $196 million more for the Felix special-education consent decree.
The legislative session opens tomorrow.
Cayetano acknowledged that he can't pay for everything he wants if the public employees all get major raises this year.
To further cloud the state's financial picture, both the House and Senate Republicans and the House Democrats want to either cut taxes or give tax credits.
"Until we see what the public employee wage package is, we can't say what we will do" about tax cuts or credits, House Speaker Calvin Say explained yesterday.
The Legislature's Republicans want to exempt grocery food, rent and medical services from the state's 4 percent excise tax. They estimate such cuts would cost $180 million, which the Democrats argue is too much.
Rep. Marcus Oshiro, House Democratic leader, said he figures tax credits -- similar to the food and rent credits that existed before the Legislature repealed them in 1995 -- would be more productive.
Democrats argued that the credits would be aimed at helping the low- and middle-income taxpayer, leaving high-income people and tourists to pay the excise tax on food and medical services without any credits.
"This will help Hawaii residents, while exporting the tax," Oshiro said.
In the Senate, Vice President Colleen Hanabusa and others are pushing for aid to the public schools, saying a "positive environment" is needed to prepare school children for the new economy.
It is expected that much of the state's new construction budget, which Cayetano raised to $1 billion, will go for repair and maintenance in the schools.
As complicated as the state's finances appear, the equation gets murky when you include the revitalized House Republicans, who now have the needed number of members, 19, to force issues to the floor for a roll call vote.
House GOP leader Rep. Galen Fox is promising to test the Democrats' stands on issues ranging from taxes to campaign reform and point out the Democrats who don't vote for the popular issues.
At the same time, Oshiro said he's promising a more active role for Democrats.
"I want to be a more outspoken advocate for our caucus," he said. "Instead of just defending our position, I want to advance the position."
As Say noted, the Republicans "will have a tremendous impact in keeping the Democrats on their toes."
One issue that is expected to generate debate early on is a new push for equal rights for gay and lesbian couples. While the push is coming from the community, Say hasn't detected much support for the issue among his Democratic colleagues.
"If the majority pushes gay rights, that's one thing, but if they don't have the votes, I will just tell them the votes are not there.
"I don't want to get caught up in it," Say said.
Hawaii Revised Statutes
Key issues and proposals
at 2001 Legislature
EDUCATIONMore than $196 million in additional funding to meet Felix consent decree requirements
$166 million in additional spending to Department of Education budget
Recruitment and retention of teachers
Addressing expected principals' shortage
Taxing powers to Board of Education
Local school boards
More textbooks for students
Early childhood education
No contract, higher pay for principals
Department of Education autonomy
Private school tuition tax credits for parents of Felix students wanting to "opt out" of public school
ECONOMYPay raises for Hawaii Government Employees Association workers, teachers and possibly University of Hawaii professors
Removing general excise tax on food, medical services and rent
Tax refund or tax credit for residents because the state's general fund balances in the last two fiscal years exceeded 5 percent of the general fund
Water for agricultural use
ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTIONClean-energy economy with use of hydrogen
Complete ban on fireworks for Oahu
HEALTH CAREGambling to pay for long-term health care
Helping Hawaii's families (theme for House majority, but no details yet)
Privatizing the Hawaii Health Systems Corp.
GOVERNMENT REFORMBill end to soft campaign money
HAWAIIAN AFFAIRSAllowing Department of Hawaiian Home Lands to be handed off to whatever entity Hawaiian beneficiaries decide to create; this entity would take control of the 203,000 acres of homestead land now under the department's control
Divesting OHA as a state agency to protect it from pending legal case
Allowing Kahoolawe Island Reserve Commission to accept donations before federal funding ends in 2003
HIGH TECHNOLOGY$49 million to upgrade the state's information technology system
$27.5 million in computers for public schools
CONSTRUCTION$50 million state aquarium
$141 million for UH medical school at Kakaako
$10 million to renovate Kuhio Park Terrace
$6.5 million for residential facility for juvenile sex-offender program, now housed in Pearl City
$3.1 million for staff and books at Kapolei Library and $12 million in construction for Phase Two of regional library
$100 million for school electrical upgrades, heat and noise abatement, telecommunications and health and safety improvements
$100 million for school repair and maintenance
$40 million for university repair and maintenance
PUBLIC SAFETYDrug treatment center for convicted drug users
$8.8 million for increased costs to house inmates out of state and an extra $13.2 million to lease federal bed space at the new federal prison near the airport
Beef up drug court
ELECTIONS & VOTINGElection office needs an additional $173,500 in each election year to add to the $1,113,000 it already has to pay for the multi-year ES&S contract.
Elections office must fund support of reapportionment activities from July 1, 2001, to Dec. 1, 2001. They are asking for $126,000 in personnel costs and $284,780 in current expenses.
Increasing the stipends of precinct officials to $85 from $75
Increasing the hourly pay of precinct trainers to $17 per hour from $12 per hour
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