Lingle trimming
to balance budget

Tree pruning and UH’s
West Oahu campus project
fall under the budget ax

By Richard Borreca

Projects ranging from $171.3 million for the University of Hawaii's West Oahu campus to $20,000 for tree trimming are all being slashed as Gov. Linda Lingle tries to bring the state budget into balance.

After campaigning for a year on the promise to restore "fiscal discipline" to the state's $3.6 billion-a-year budget, Lingle is finding the task difficult.

The balancing act is made more difficult because Lingle said she would not use the $187 million in the Hawaii Hurricane Relief Fund to help pay for state expenses.

Her budget director, Georgina Kawamura, who was Maui budget director for former mayors Lingle and Hannibal Tavares, is now wielding the budget ax for state government.

"We went in and restricted and we cut," Kawamura said.

Earlier this week, Lingle administration cuts to private health-care providers' budgets prompted the 10 community health centers to complain that they could not stand to lose $1.6 million.

Health Director Chiyome Fukino said the one-time supplemental funding was targeted because officials saw $1.6 million not being used and no contracts for services being issued.

"I had hoped to revisit this issue in a collaborative manner with the community health centers and administration because I believe that a long-term solution will be better for everyone," she said yesterday.

A new round of trims from Lingle took an additional $3.3 million a year from the Department of Human Services, including $500,000 from general assistance welfare payments, $700,000 from child welfare services and $900,000 from community-based residential support.

Kawamura said that when Lingle ordered departments to cut their budgets by 5 percent, she did not dictate where they would take the money.

"I was amazed they could come up with these cuts, which only led me to believe that there was some fat in the budget," Kawamura said.

In previous rounds of budget cutting under former Gov. Ben Cayetano's administration, human service programs also had been cut. In the last budget he prepared, Cayetano tried to restore some of those cuts to welfare and social service agencies.

But, Kawamura said, the state simply does not have the money this year for anything extra.

"It is not easy in two months to think you can learn everything about a department and then to undue years of practice and trying to change a mind-set," Kawamura said.

"I keep telling people I am not an insensitive person. If we had the money, we would love to be spending it, but we just don't have the money and that can't be repeated enough," Kawamura said.

Within the budget cuts are some clear changes in direction for the state. For instance, the Lingle budget calls for forcing the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii to pay its own way.

The state has been supporting the Big Island demonstration project for 21 years. The facility is also supported with funds from tenants who use the cold water piped up from the deep ocean bottom.

At the same time, the budget cancels the $13 million to start planning and engineering for a new West Oahu college campus that has been under discussion for 25 years. An additional $158.3 million in construction funds for the project has also been cut.

More than half of the proposed $1 billion construction budget is being canceled, with the largest amount coming in reductions to projects for the University of Hawaii.

Kawamura said Lingle worries that the state may be getting ahead of its own planning by building a new college campus without putting into the budget the money to operate the campus and staff it.

Kawamura says the university is taking the brunt of the construction cuts because the university had claimed most of the construction funds.

But with the construction budget at $1 billion, it was not likely that the Legislature would have approved the entire amount. Cayetano had twice tried unsuccessfully to get the Legislature to adopt a billion-dollar budget.

"Sometimes this money is just for show, it is a statement of support, but when you look at a billion dollars in construction, the state can't process that many projects," Kawamura said.

She is projecting that by cutting back on construction funds, the state will have saved $110 million in interest payments by 2009. The interest is paid for the bonds that would be sold to cover the cost of the extra construction that Cayetano had requested in the previous budget.

"We are going to be going into a more reality-based construction program, and we still haven't gone over the entire CIP budget yet with a fine-toothed comb," Kawamura said.

Budget cuts

Cuts made by Gov. Linda Lingle to the proposed state budget come in all sizes. Here is a sampling of some cuts:

>> $1,500 for out-of-state travel by the Commission on Uniform Legislation in the Attorney General's Office.

>> $40,000 for the "the pilot project for artificial habitat for bottom-fish activities" in the Department of Land & Natural Resources.

>> $272,220 by deleting six vacant social worker positions in the adult parole department.

>> $400,000 next year and $798,000 the following year from the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii budget.

>> $694,472 in each of the next two years from the Child and Welfare Services budget.

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