UPDATED Sunday 4/29/2012

A marathon session at the Capitol that began Friday morning, ended in the wee hours of Saturday with Hawaii lawmakers finally ending a budget stalemate and unanimously agreeing to pump $825 million worth of bond-financed capital improvement projects into the economy next year.

Legislators had already agreed on an $11.2 billion operating budget, but the CIP portion held up passage of the supplemental budget for the current year that ends June 30.

House Bill 2012 passed out of conference committee at 3 a.m. It heads for a floor vote next week.

Specifics on the CIP portion of the budget weren’t immediately available online. Lawmakers added in close to $430 million in general obligation bonds for projects in fiscal 2013, resulting in the $825 million total. Earlier in the day, House and Senate lawmakers were pushing two very different plans.

The House preferred a CIP budget closer to the $300 million Gov. Neil Abercrombie had proposed, while the Senate has been pushing for an additional half-billion dollars in general-obligation-bond financing for reapair and maintenance projects.

You can get a sense of the operations spending from budget worksheets online, which outline the agreements and disagreements that existed as the House and Senate headed into conference committee. The general fund portion of the $11.2 billion operating budget totals a little over $5 billion.

Some of the operating line items lawmakers compromised on earlier in the week include:

  • $18.2 million in general funds for “procured services for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families,” or TANF welfare benefits

  • $17 million in special funds for “projected electricity, sewer and water cost shortfalls” at the Honolulu International Airport

  • $2 million in special funds for the transportation department’s highways division “to address damages caused by recent heavy rains throughout the state”

  • $350,000 in special funds for three temporary positions for the Public Land Development Corp.

  • $215,568 to fund nine plant quarantine inspectors at Kahului Airport

Deadline Extended for Other Money Bills

The impasse on the budget threatened all other money-related bills that faced a 6 p.m. deadline Friday.

Just before midnight, House Speaker Calvin Say and Senate President Shan Tsutsui announced an agreement to extend that deadline until Monday morning, allowing deliberations to continue over the weekend for certain fiscal measures.

They appear to not include Say’s favored measure, Senate Bill 755, the one granting some state and county projects exemptions from environmental review. It was never heard during conference committee.

Another big measure, the undersea cable bill, did not pass by Friday’s deadline but could still move if the Senate agrees to House amendments.

Lawmakers recognized that they had to give more time to some important bills.

“We believe that due to the delay in the passage of the budget, allowing these bills to die based on an internal procedural deadline is not in the best interest of the people of Hawaii,” Tsutsui said.

The extension saves the Legislature from a replay of last session, when several important bills were left on the table in the final days of 2011 because of prolonged budget talks.

Say said the extension would apply to:

  • “Bills with general fund appropriations that fit within a $50 million ceiling. This is outside of the general funds of the supplemental budget.”

  • “Bills with non-general-fund appropriations that had agreements of the conference committee on language, and approval of the chairs of the Senate Ways and Means Committee and the Finance Committee as of 6 p.m. Friday.”

  • “And third, other fiscal bills with (Ways and Means) or Finance referral that had the agreement of the conference committee on language, and approval of the chairs of Ways and Means or Finance, as of 6 p.m.”

  • Tsutsui added that no general fund enhancement or tax relief bills will be allowed.

UPDATE

Some of the measures qualifying for exemption could include Senate Bill 2784, which would replenish unspecified amounts into the state’s Hurricane Relief and Rainy Day reserves; and SB 490, which would expand visa programs to attract more international visitors.1

Other measures, those without a money component, cleared the Friday deadline.

For example, fixes to the state’s civil unions law, including granting of a narrow religious exemption for some groups, managed to squeak by and now awaits full House and Senate votes early next week.

Another measure calling for regulatory exemptions for transit-oriented development passed.

Deferral After Deferral

With the budget on hold for most of Friday, conferees were not allowed to sign off on scores of other bills that required leadership approval.

That meant supporters and opponents of measures would show up for a scheduled conference committee meeting, only to learn that their bills would be pushed back into later in the day — often more than once.

“How about 5? That work for you?” a conference committee manager would ask his or her counterpart.

“Let’s make it 5:30 — no, 5:35 p.m.,” came the typical response.

The banter was often conducted in an exaggerated politeness; whenever a conference manager made a joke, the laughter that followed allowed for letting off some steam.

As the budget conferees appeared to edge closer to resolution, especially at a 4:30 p.m. deadline, Conference Room 309 was standing-room only. In the corridors outside, many more gathered, with some watching the action on a television.

The crowd included Abercrombie cabinet members, lobbyists and journalists. Many stuck around or returned for the action at 9 p.m. Shortly after the public meeting reconvened, House Finance Chair Marcus Oshiro and Senate Ways and Means Chair David Ige immediately pushed things back to 10:15 p.m. Then 11:15. Then 11:45.

By then, the exceptionally long day had taken a toll on lawmakers and their staffers. Despite the dragged-out session, close to 50 people — mostly state department and division heads — were still in the audience as the clock approached 3 a.m. Not surprisingly, many were visibly exhausted.

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