Neil Abercrombie repeatedly said his administration would be ready from day one to tackle Hawaii’s myriad problems, yet — for the second time in as many weeks — his administration is asking for more time when it comes to submitting a state budget.

The first time came Dec. 20 when Abercrombie submitted to the Legislature the budget he inherited from the Lingle administration.

The second time came Tuesday.

Interim Budget and Finance Director Kalbert Young, addressing the Senate Ways and Means Committee and House Finance Committee, stunned lawmakers when he said the final budget might not be completed until mid-March — halfway through the 2011 legislative session.

Pressed by lawmakers, he explained that departments would likely send individual budgets over in a piecemeal fashion rather than all at once.

But lawmakers like Rep. Isaac Choy, a CPA, was incredulous that it would take that long, as the House must finish its work on the budget and pass it over to the Senate about that time.

Because of the uncertainty in House leadership, the Legislature is not working on an official calendar until the Speaker and Senate President can agree on one. But in the 2010 session, the deadline for budget “decking” was March 8 and the crossover from House to Senate was March 10.

“That really scares me,” said Choy.

Young explained to lawmakers that he and his staff were still new to the job, and that it’s taking time to understand the “intricacies” of the state budget.

“We realize this submission will be later than normal in the legislative timetable,” he said, “however, we need adequate time for the new directors to come up to speed on their respective department budgets and for the administration to properly evaluate and prioritize the requests.”

Those priorities incude the following: how increased contributions in the Hawaii Employer-Union Health Benefits Trust Fund would be paid, how deferrals in the Employees’ Retirement System would be repaid, how to deal with the deficit in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, how to pay for increased Medicaid requirements because of the needs of Marshallese clients and a host of other programs.

Lawmakers pressed for answers on these and other issues, with Young doing his best to respond. Sometimes he had specifics, but other times he needed help from staff.

Example: Sen. Malama Solomon asked Young how many state workers there are. An aide whispered into his ear: “35,000.”

Senate Vice President Donna Mercado Kim asked when the administration would tell lawmakers how it would fund its own high-priority program initiatives. Between now and mid-March, maybe as early as February, Young replied.

“Do you realize the House has to get a budget to us?” Kim replied, echoing Choy’s concern. “There is an issue of timing.”

Kim also advised Young that the administration use budget worksheets provided by the Legislature rather than pick and choose from them as she said the Lingle administration did. Young apologized for not being familiar with the worksheets but promised Kim he would take her advice.

Additionally, Kim questioned where the administration could possibly find areas in which to “retool” the budget, as Abercrombie has promised, arguing that the Legislature — Kim headed Senate Ways and Means during the last two sessions — and previous administration had done all they could.

“Where is the retooling?” she asked. “Or is that coming in March as well?”

Young again asked for patience. “We’ve only been on the job for a month,” he said, at one point saying his office was essentially taking a “crash course” on the budget.

The grilling continued.

House Minority Leader Gene Ward questioned how, with budget constraints, the administration could fund its own high-priority program initiatives. Young said the figure of $50 million was being used as a placeholder.

Meanwhile, House Finance Committee Chair Marcus Oshiro wondered whether Young had consulted with the state Department of Public Safety over the recent critical audit of the Arizona prisons contract. And Ward — again — wanted to know where the state would come up with $200 million for past-due ceded-land revenue due to OHA.

Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland asked whether, because of prior cuts to the offices of governor and lieutenant governor, some employees in the new administration might be working without pay. Young said it was possible that was happening.

Young did his best, but he seemed visibly relieved to relinquish the podium and get back to crunching numbers.

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