Gov. Neil Abercrombie today announced a plan to “address an inconsistency” of $444 million between the state budget bill and the bond authorization bill passed by the Legislature.
Because of the imbalance and the legal issues raised, the governor was advised by Attorney General David Louie and Budget and Finance Director Kalbert Young that he could not sign either bill into law.
“The proposed solution is the most efficient path to resolving this situation without the need for any additional costs to the taxpayer,” the governor said at a press conference at the Capitol, adding that his administration had consulted with Senate President Donna Mercado Kim and House Speaker Joe Souki.
The administration’s solution is to temporarily reduce the general obligation bond appropriation of SEFI projects — the State Educational Facilities Improvement fund — through a line-item reduction of up to $46 million in the budget bill.
Young said no particular project would be impacted, and the Department of Education cooperated in the decision. He said, however, that the Legislature would need to reauthorize the $46 million next session.
The governor’s action comes as the current fiscal year is set to expire at the end of June. The executive supplemental budget bill covers fiscal year 2015, which begins July 1.
Abercrombie told reporters that “you cannot be casual about the idea of tens of millions of dollars or hundreds of millions of dollars,” adding, “There’s no way around it. You either do your job or you don’t. I have a job to do. I am not about to sign a bill that is close. I am not about to sign a bill that is almost legal.”
The governor was asked if the Legislature failed to do its job.
“The budget bill and the bond authorization bill are supposed to balance,” he replied. “They don’t.”
Reached by phone after the press conference, House Finance Chairwoman Sylvia Luke said she “wasn’t very surprised” when she learned there was a mistake in the budget. But she blamed it on the governor for announcing a deal on preserving land at Turtle Bay in the last week of the Legislature’s hectic conference committee period.
“We were about to close the budget,” Luke told Civil Beat. “For the next five days we had to scramble, to realign and readjust the budget. So I’m not surprised that this happened. That’s what happens when people come down with last-minute requests.”
Luke expressed disappointment that the governor felt it necessary to hold a press conference on the line-item fix.
“We were working this through,” she said, referring to the executive and legislative branches. “Perhaps this is in view of the election and he wants to pick a fight with his opponent. But to blame this on the Legislature when he shared in the blame as well, I think they should be a little bit sensitive about our timetable. This is the type of stuff that really strains our relationship.”
Abercrombie’s opponent in the Aug. 9 Democratic primary is state Sen. David Ige, chairman of Ways and Means and Luke’s counterpart on the budget.
A message left with Ige’s Senate office was not immediately returned. But the senator issued a statement later Monday:
“I became aware of the technical errors in the State Budget and the bond authorization bill last week, and have worked with the Department of Budget and Finance and House and Senate leadership to develop the alternatives to correct the errors,” he said. “We have agreed on the actions required and avoided a special session that would increase costs. The errors are technical in nature and are easily resolvable if the legislature and Administration work together on a solution. I am ready and willing to do this to quickly resolve the situation.”