Right now might not be the best time to talk about taking money out of the state’s hungry general fund. But that’s exactly what lawmakers are considering.

Facing down an $800 million budget shortfall, one of the many money-related proposals still on the table would shuffle about $14 million in projected annual barrel tax revenue [pdf] to special funds promoting energy and agricultural sustainability.

Both Senate Bill 722 and House Bill 1019 have passed out of their subject matter committees. That means they’re still alive.

It’s hardly a surprise that the agriculture and energy committees would be open to spending more of the state’s money on those initiatives. As originally conceived, the barrel tax was created to help Hawaii’s self-sufficiency both by discouraging oil consumption and by promoting clean energy and local food programs. Clean energy advocates like the Blue Planet Foundation say the public is willing to support those programs even if it means higher taxes, and say that the barrel tax should be funneled back where it belongs.

During the budget crisis in 2010, more than half of the barrel tax revenues were diverted to the general fund. The state’s budget picture is still murky, and it’s the money committees — House Finance and Senate Ways and Means — that will ultimately determine what happens next.

Senate Ways and Means Chair David Ige told Civil Beat last week that he’d be spending Thursday, Friday and Saturday looking over all the bills that have been lateraled to his committee, including SB722. He said he expects to make a decision this week on which bills will get hearings.

House Finance Chair Marcus Oshiro told Civil Beat that he’s “inclined” to hold a hearing on HB1019, but said he can’t imagine passing a bill until after lawmakers get a look at Gov. Neil Abercrombie‘s budget.

If programs formerly funded by the general fund are shifted to special fund support in the Department of Agriculture or Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism budgets, Oshiro might be open to shuffling the barrel tax, he said. Under that scenario, the move wouldn’t add to the general fund deficit, but it also wouldn’t materially help the state attain energy or food independence.

Abercrombie’s staff will roll out the budget later today. Soon, answers on clean energy and local agriculture will start coming.

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