Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie has unveiled a $24 billion plan to run the state for the next two years that relies heavily on record surpluses.
The supplemental budget request he sent to the Legislature calls for $53.2 million less spending in fiscal year 2014, which starts July 1. But he wants $183.3 million more than the current appropriation for 2015.
During his budget presentation Monday at the Capitol, Abercrombie touted a $1.1 billion turnaround over the past three years that has left the state with an $844 million carryover balance.
The governor said he would like to use some of that money to boost emergency reserves, ramp up his early education initiative and address the state’s woefully underfunded pension system.
The administration’s six-year financial plan projects continued surpluses ranging from 5 percent to 13 percent of the total general fund, ending with a $1.08 billion carryover balance in 2019.
The surplus for 2013 represents 14 percent of the total general fund revenues. A $766.5 million surplus is estimated for 2014, which would be 12 percent.
Anytime the state general fund balance exceeds 5 percent of general fund revenues in two consecutive years, the Legislature in its next regular session has to consider giving taxpayers a refund or — thanks to a constitutional amendment voters passed in 2010 — depositing the extra money into emergency funds.
Based on comments from key lawmakers and top officials, it seems like the state will be doing a lot more of the latter.
The state’s finance director, Kalbert Young, said part of the administration’s tactical plan is to build the state’s financial reserves equal to 10 percent of the total general fund revenues.
“These reserves will allow the state to weather future economic downturns and mitigate against cyclical public service cutbacks,” he said.
The administration’s six-year financial plan would take the reserve fund balances from their current level of less than 1 percent to almost 5 percent by 2019.
House Finance Chair Sylvia Luke told reporters Monday that there’s support in the Legislature to create a budget reserve that is equivalent to 10 percent of the total general fund.
Luke also shares the governor’s vision to fully fund health and retirement benefits promised to thousands of public workers. There’s a roughly $24 billion hole between the Employee Retirement System and Employer-Union Trust Fund that financial analysts say will take 30 years to fill.
Lawmakers will be taking a “cautious approach” to the budget next legislative session, which starts Jan. 15, Luke said.
The next session presents an opportunity for legislators to show they’ve learned lessons from the past, she added.
The state ended 2006 with a then-record $732 million surplus, but that carryover balance quickly evaporated. Public workers were furloughed, programs were slashed and the state ended 2009 with a $36.8 million deficit.
Luke’s counterpart in the Senate, Ways and Means Chair David Ige, said in a statement Monday that he looks forward to reviewing the governor’s supplemental budget request.
Ige, who is running against Abercrombie for governor in 2014, said the first priority is to maintain the state’s fiscal health and budget reserves.
“We understand that the Governor’s proposed budget substantially increases general fund appropriations; moving forward we must be cognizant of and monitor general fund tax collections,” Ige said.
The Legislature will consider the governor’s budget request against the next general fund revenue projection from the state Council on Revenues, which is due in January, Ige said.
He told Civil Beat last month that based on collective bargaining agreements and the budget adopted last session, the state plans to spend $145 million more than it expects to bring in next year and $341 million more than it will likely take in the following year. The state is relying on the surplus to balance the budget, he said.
Lawmakers have budget briefings at the Capitol starting Wednesday.
Here are some highlights from the governor’s proposed budget for 2014 and 2015:
$351.7 million in new general obligation bond-funded capital improvement projects.
$5.4 million additional for early learning and development initiatives. (Approximately $4.4 million of that would aid the Executive Office on Early Learning in working with the Hawaii Department of Education to establish pre-kindergarten classes on DOE campuses, and $1 million would fund Family-Child Interaction Learning programs for family engagement for 4-year-olds, according to the governor’s office.)
$2.5 million more proposed for Preschool Open Doors. (The new voluntary program administered by the state Department of Human Services enhances access to school readiness services for 4-year-old children, with priority extended to underserved or at-risk keiki and those who are not eligible to attend public school kindergarten in the school year they turn 5 because their birth date occurs after the kindergarten eligibility date, according to the governor’s office.)
$25 million for air-conditioning in schools statewide.
$600,000 to continue efforts to provide iPads and laptops for students.
More than $4.5 million requested for programs that support older residents, of which $4.2 million is proposed for the Kupuna Care program and $427,937 for Adult Disability Resource Centers.
An additional $40 million for conservation purposes at Turtle Bay, as proposed by the Turtle Bay working group last month. (The working group was established by Senate Concurrent Resolution 164 during the 2013 legislative session and tasked with developing a conservation action plan to explore and identify conservation alternatives for the undeveloped portions of the Turtle Bay property and surrounding lands with conservation or historic value, according to the governor’s office.)
$1.5 million for the Housing First program to assist the most vulnerable homeless.
10 positions and $1 million to expand Healthcare Transformation initiatives.
Restoration of eight positions and an additional $188,269 for the Department of Agriculture’s pesticides program.
$3.1 million for Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui’s R.E.A.C.H. Initiative for for middle and intermediate afterschool programs.
$33.5 million to the University of Hawaii, whose Board of Regents committed a portion of funds toward issuance of revenue bonds for addressing UH’s $400 million backlog of repair and maintenance projects.
View the governor’s supplemental budget request in detail here: