Enjoy bigger budget
while it lasts
In the Capitol's cold corridors this weekend, the state budget is being readied. Attending to this 792-page behemoth is the work of the leaders of the House and Senate money committees. Watching over those ministrations is Governor Lingle, who will decide precisely how to spend the newly granted $3.7 billion.
Already reporters clucking over the budget have reached for the usual clichés: Dire fiscal straits, belt-tightening and economic gloom set the scene. But the real story is that the state has more money than it did last year, and it plans to spend more than it did last year. The belt-tightening is done with bungee cords.
Thanks to research done by the Senate Republicans, the budget is no longer the shrouded, unknowable document where programs and the money for them wander among departments and fiscal responsibility and discipline blurs. The GOP researchers actually tallied up the expenses by department and then ranked them by the increased percentages.
According to the latest version of the budget, the one done by the Senate, the Governor's Office is getting the biggest increase, 33.8 percent. It is so big because two years ago the Legislature cut the governor's budget 24 percent, but then-Governor Cayetano did not adjust his spending accordingly, so when Lingle took over there was little left to run her office.
The tax department's budget is going up 21.6 percent; Attorney General's Office, 11.4; Department of Agriculture, 11.1; Department of Education, 8.7; Labor, 8.4; Business, Economic Development and Tourism, 8; Public Safety, 7.7; Hawaiian Homes, 6.8; Land and Natural Resources, 6.3; Human Services, 5.5; University of Hawaii, 4.9; Defense, 4.4; and Human Resources, 4.3.
Of course, big percentages don't necessarily mean big bucks. The 33.8 percent increase for the Governor's Office's amounts to just $792,657 more, while the 8.7 percent increase for public education would translate into $114,775,971 more.
The catch with the education increase is that this is money factored in with the Senate tax increase on the general excise tax. Since those numbers were cranked, the tax increase was spiked in both the House and Senate and the resulting DOE increase will have to be lowered.
When Hawaii's legislators start whimpering about how much they are cutting and Lingle vows to keep her own budget-cutting ax at the ready, remember: They are not cutting last year's budget, they are slicing next year's new, improved and bigger budget.
The difference is that the budget represents an increase in general fund spending of $145 million, or about 4.1 percent over last fiscal year's budget.
Next year's budget, Lingle hopes, will be easier to understand. Left unsaid is the hope that even the virtual budget-cutting will not be needed in an improved economy.
Richard Borreca writes on politics every Sunday in the Star-Bulletin.
He can be reached at 525-8630 or by e-mail at email@example.com.