Former Congressman Neil Abercrombie says his Democratic rival, former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, has left Hawaii’s capital city in dire financial shape.

In an interview featured on KHON 2’s website, Abercrombie said: “The former mayor is leaving the city in the worst financial position of any city I can imagine.”

But is Honolulu really worse off than cities like Detroit, Los Angeles and New York?

To judge the accuracy of Abercrombie’s statement, Civil Beat compared Honolulu with several other major metropolitan cities in the United States that are also struggling.

We found that while Honolulu’s financial situation may be nothing to brag about, it’s nowhere near the bottom of the barrel.

In June, Civil Beat reported that in Hannemann’s five years as mayor, the city’s annual operating expenses rose 39 percent to $1.2 billion. His administration also added 508 city employees to the payroll despite a national recession. Hannemann himself took a 5 percent pay cut along with members of his executive staff while instituting mandatory furloughs for city workers. About half of all city employees have been forced to take off two days a month without pay and the other half received a salary reduction of 5 percent.

Honolulu has a projected shortfall of $80 million for fiscal year 2011 and $140 million for fiscal year 2012. How does that compare with other large U.S. cities?

City Population Budget Shortfall Shortfall as a Percentage of General Fund Unemployment Rate
Chicago, IL 9,568,532 $520 million 16.3 percent 10.6 percent
Los Angeles, CA 12,872,808 $492 million 11.2 percent 11.6 percent
Honolulu, HI 905,034 $80 million 8.2 percent 5.8 percent
New York, NY 19,006,798 $4.9 billion 8.2 percent 8.8 percent

“Population Statistics” were taken from the 2008 American Community Survey published by the U.S. Census. Figures for “Budget Shortfalls” came from the Honolulu City and County operating budget and the Pew Charitable Trust’s Philadelphia Research Initiative’s Not Out of the Woods: The Recessions’s Continuing Impact on Big City Taxes, Services and Pensions (May 26, 2010). “Unemployment” statistics were taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for the month of June 2010.

What’s clear is, there are at least two other cities whose budget shortfalls make up a larger percentage of their general fund than does Honolulu’s.

Chicago is a substantially larger city than Honolulu and its financial hole is twice as deep. The Windy City has spent its way to a $520 million deficit with a shortfall that is 16.3 percent of its general fund. Honolulu’s shortfall as a percentage of its general fund is almost half that, at 8.2 percent.

On the West Coast, Los Angeles has a $492 million budget shortfall and an unemployment rate of 11.2 percent. Its shortfall as a percentage of its general fund is 11.2 percent, also higher than Honolulu’s.

To see a more complete chart showing four more cities whose financial situations are more severe than Honolulu’s, see our city budget story.