City Councilman Trevor Ozawa took a scalpel Thursday to Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s proposed $2.61 billion operating budget for fiscal year 2019, which starts July 1.

The new Budget Committee chair and longtime Caldwell critic proposed cutting millions of dollars from various city departments to avoid the need for a trash collection fee that the mayor has proposed.

While some of his proposed cuts were rejected by the Budget Committee, Ozawa successfully pushed the committee to cut $44 million from the mayor’s $875 million proposed capital budget, which pays for construction and infrastructure projects. The $44 million in bonding was proposed to be set aside for administrative costs of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, the agency overseeing the city’s rail project.

Honolulu City Council member Trevor Ozawa during full council meeting.

Budget Committee Chairman Trevor Ozawa flexed his new political muscles in pushing for cuts to Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s proposed budget, but not all of Ozawa’s cuts were approved Thursday.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The agency has said it would not actually use the money, but the council needs to include it in the budget anyway to prove the city’s rail commitment to the Federal Transit Administration, according to the Caldwell administration.

Councilman Ernie Martin, who regained the council chairmanship in a March shakeup, originally proposed the cut. He and Ozawa argue it is improper to pay for salaries through bonding and doing so would set a bad precedent for future years when the city will be on the hook for HART’s escalating operating costs.

Ozawa had said Wednesday that he wanted to include at least some of the rail money in the operations budget, but ultimately it was left out of both the operations and the capital budget.

Ozawa, Martin, Caldwell and other officials will fly to Washington D.C. Monday to discuss the rail project with FTA officials.

The proposed budget now goes to the full City Council.

If the council passes the mayor’s proposed trash collection fee, it would take effect in January and is expected to generate more than $5.8 million in the upcoming fiscal year.

Caldwell included that money in his revenue projections for fiscal year 2019, but Ozawa wants to pass a balanced budget without anticipating the trash fee.

“The taxpayers really don’t want to be paying for their trash fees and bulky item pickup fees and etcetera,” Ozawa said. “That’s why we are scrutinizing every little penny.”

Ozawa has proposed major budget cuts every budget cycle since he was elected to the council four years ago. Last year he joined a four-member bloc united in opposition to Caldwell’s tax and fee increases.

In the 2016 mayoral election, Ozawa supported Caldwell’s opponent, Charles Djou, who criticized cost overruns for the rail project.

Last year Ozawa’s $41 million in proposed cuts went largely ignored by then-Budget Committee Chair Joey Manahan, who backed Caldwell in 2016. On Wednesday night after the committee meeting recessed its first day of budget deliberations, Ozawa said he will be no rubber stamp for the Caldwell administration.

This year Ozawa’s proposed cuts to the operating budget, which pays for salaries and other day-to-day costs of running the city, amounted to $32 million – 1.2 percent of the mayor’s proposed budget.

The Budget Committee declined to make some of the cuts Ozawa and Martin proposed, including $566,420 for the city’s new Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resilience. That would have slashed the fledgling office’s budget in half.  

The committee did crack down on some non-holiday overtime pay in certain departments and on five-figure out-of-state travel expenses that many departments use to send their staff to training and conferences on the mainland.

Buried in a slew of proposed cuts was a $400,000 cut to the Department of Information Technology for equipment.

“That leaves us with zero dollars for hardware,” said the city’s Chief Information Officer Mark Wong, who threatened to quit if the cuts passed. Ozawa restored half of the department’s equipment fund request.

The budget goes to the full council April 25 for second reading, after which it will return to the Budget Committee for another round of amendments.

Councilwoman Kymberly Pine commended Ozawa on his budget amendments, which she said would help make living on Oahu affordable. Pine, who represents the Leeward Coast, initiated the March council shakeup that replaced Manahan with Ozawa as budget chair and Martin as council chair.  

“We can’t continue to spend the way we’ve been spending the last few years,” she said.

Thoughts on this or any other story? Write a Letter to the Editor. Send to news@civilbeat.org and put Letter in the subject line. 200 words max. You need to use your name and city and include a contact phone for verification purposes. And you can still comment on stories on our Facebook page.

About the Author