Hawaii voters seem inclined to let the Legislature have more flexibility when it comes to spending excess state revenue.

In final returns released early Wednesday morning, a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would let legislators use excess general fund revenues to make pre-payments on general obligation bond debts or put the money toward health and retirement benefits promised to thousands of public workers appeared to have passed by a slight margin with just over 50 percent of the vote.

The state counts blank votes as a vote against the measure.

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A state constitutional amendment let voters decide how Hawaii should use surplus tax revenues. Courtesy: 401(K) 2012/Flickr

Without the amendment, the constitution requires the state — whenever it has a general fund balance exceeding 5 percent of general fund revenues two years in a row — to put that surplus into an emergency reserve fund or give taxpayers a refund or credit.

General fund revenues were just over $6 billion last fiscal year, making the 5 percent trigger roughly $300 million. The state reported a record $1 billion surplus at the end of fiscal 2016, which ended June 30.

Critics noted how the amendment would exempt the state from being required to dispose of excess revenue into an emergency reserve fund, which provides fiscal stability and benefits the state’s credit rating, according to the League of Women Voters.

The other proposed state constitutional amendment proposed increasing “the threshold value in controversy requirement for jury trials in civil cases at common law” to $10,000 from $5,000.

In the end, voters rejected that measure with about 52 percent of the vote including blank votes against it.

In their decision to put the measure on the ballot, lawmakers said the amendment may help ease the burden on circuit courts with matters not involving large sums of money. 

They also said increasing the threshold value may lower the costs to the parties involved because a jury trial in circuit court can be more expensive than a bench trial in district court.

Critics cited concerns about the federal right to a jury trial.

Read Civil Beat’s 2016 election coverage of state, local and federal races here.

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