- Special Projects
The House Finance Committee took its first pass at the overall state budget bill Wednesday. It left largely intact Hawaii Gov. David Ige’s proposed $7.1 billion general fund spending plan for next fiscal year, which begins July 1.
The committee, chaired by Rep. Sylvia Luke, approved a measure that includes $16 million for Kaiser Permanente to start running Maui Memorial, Kula and Lanai Community hospitals.
The state agreed in January to transfer control of operations and management from Hawaii Health Systems Corp. to Kaiser as part of a public-private partnership the Legislature authorized last year.
The bill also includes $21 million for Hawaii Health Systems to “maintain current levels of critical healthcare services” at the public hospitals it oversees, particularly on the neighbor islands.
The 241-page bill covers all state departments, and Luke highlighted funding changes in many of them.
Under the latest version, the Department of Education would receive $500,000 for bonuses to teachers working in hard-to-staff schools and $7 million to help provide student bus service.
Corey Rosenlee, president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, told lawmakers that they need to focus on building a new high school to accommodate the growing number of students at Campbell High School.
There are just over 3,000 enrolled now in the 55-year-old facility, where Rosenlee teaches. He said enrollment is expected to soar to 3,600 in the next few years. Som classrooms already have more than 50 students, he said.
“There’s no place to put the kids,” he said.
Ige asked for $35 million for a new classroom building at Campbell. The Finance Committee budgeted $15 million.
The Department of Human Services gets $6 million for the Preschool Open Doors program for low- to moderate-income families in this draft of the budget, plus $400,000 to educate and train 20 social workers.
The bill provides $160,000 to upgrade the computers for deputy attorneys general, and $380,000 for statewide sexual assault victims services.
The measure would beef up security at the Capitol, Iolani Palace, Washington Place and the Supreme Court by providing $440,000 for 12 deputy sheriffs.
The Department of Transportation would get $4.5 million for new firefighter vehicles and other resources, plus $1.4 million for sonar-equipped vessels to help mitigate disasters at harbors.
There’s also $1.3 million for a new Joint Traffic Management Center on Oahu, to reduce traffic congestion and accidents.
The University of Hawaii would see $50 million for repair and maintenance, a fraction of what it needs to address its backlog, and $15 million for the Athletics Department to renovate facilities.
“We started several years ago to look for ways to make state government more efficient and to create a mindset for the state to spend within its means as a matter of consistent practice,” Luke said in a statement.
“One of the primary ways to achieve this end was for us to get a more accurate accounting of what the needs of our departments were, especially when it came to manpower,” she said. “What we found were issues relating to hard-to-fill vacancies and vacation payouts for retirees clouding a clear picture of what those needs were.
“In the case of longstanding vacancies of two years or more, we are asking the departments to reassess the positions to see why they are so hard to fill,” she added. “If we need to be more competitive with the private sector to attract quality employees, then we need to consider that.”
The revised budget bill goes before the full House for a vote next week and then crosses over to the Senate for its consideration. A final version will be negotiated between House and Senate leaders later next month.
The Senate version could be significantly higher. The House draft does not include millions of dollars that the administration has asked for since its initial request in December.
Last month, Ige told the Legislature that arbitration agreements have been awarded for public-worker unions that need to be funded, and he’s asked for $45 million in special funds for green infrastructure loans.
The governor wants 33 new positions and $2.3 million to manage the dengue fever outbreak on the Big Island, as well as emerging public health threats such as the Zika virus.
In a letter to House and Senate leadership, he said the positions would help expand and enhance coverage for surveillance, investigation, assessment, abatement and public education throughout the state, and restore the Vector Control Branch’s funding levels that were reduced in 2010. He also wants one position and $266,864 for a public outreach campaign.
The final budget also likely will increase; many items are blanked out because lawmakers want more time to evaluate the requests.
Read what the department heads asked lawmakers to fund here.