In anticipation of a lowered economic forecast coming out next week, the House Finance Committee called for shaving a total of $500 million from the governor’s $14 billion budget proposal Wednesday.

Rep. Sylvia Luke, the committee chairwoman, told the audience in a crowded Capitol conference room that the flow of general excise tax revenue in fiscal year 2017, which ends June 30, has been less than expected.

It’s unclear exactly where the cuts will be made, but that should become evident when budget worksheets are made available next week.

Chair Finance Committee Rep Sylvia Luke Capitol. 8 march 2017
House Finance Committee Chairwoman Sylvia Luke called for cutting $500 million from the state budget Thursday, citing concerns about a slowing tax revenue stream. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The House is scheduled to send the budget to the Senate at that time, where Sen. Jill Tokuda’s Ways and Means committee will have the next crack at it.

“It is better to take a more aggressive approach and do further cuts now, as opposed to having a huge budget sent over to the Senate for them to do significant cuts,” said Luke.

If the Council on Revenues on Monday projects the state’s 3 percent rate of growth to decline — as Luke anticipates — it would mark the second time this year that the budget has had to be scaled back.

In December, Gov. David Ige submitted his budget draft to the Legislature: $14.2 billion for fiscal year 2018 (which begins July 1) and $14.3 billion for fiscal year 2019. It represented 4 percent and 5 percent increases, respectively, from the previous biennium.

But in early January the Council on Revenues dropped growth projections from 5.5 percent to 3 percent. That meant that the state had $155 million less to work with in the 2017 session.

Rep Sylvia Luke chair Finance people wait outside room 308 Capitol. 8 march 2017
A crowd of government representatives closely tracking the state budget plan spilled out of the House Finance Committee conference room and into the hallway. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

When Wes Machida, Ige’s director of budget and finance, later testified before a joint session, Luke and Tokuda lambasted the administration for not submitting a “real” budget that took into consideration declining revenues.

The administration had crafted its budget months before the January revenue projection was issued. By mid-February, the governor reduced the proposal by about $220 million, primarily from decreases in education and the state pension system.

Luke expressed hope that the revenue picture would brighten (she described the flat tax levels as “puzzling”), but she had been warned that it could drop as much as 1 percent.

Machida, who was among scores of department representatives at the hearing, said Luke made a smart call.

“I think, given that revenues haven’t been coming in as expected, then it’s a good and reasonable approach to take, because there is only three more months left in the fiscal year,” he said. “A 1 percent swing either way is about $65 million.”

Rep. Kyle Yamashita, the Finance Committee member who handles the capital improvement projects portion of the budget, said he was looking at “a more conservative CIP budget, just shy of $1 billion.”

Office of Information Practices Director Cheryl Kakazu Park in the overflowing crowds inside room 308 Finance committee meeting. Capitol. 8 march 2017 OIP
Office of Information Practices Director Cheryl Kakazu Park was among the many agency heads on hand for Wednesday’s hearing. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

However, Yamashita said many CIP projects are “in the pipe now,” enough to “keep the economy going.” As Luke acknowledged, Hawaii’s unemployment is low and the economy is stable.

House Bill 100 is the primary legislative vehicle for the state budget.

As now drafted, it appropriates for operating and capital improvement costs $7.1 billion in general funds and $13.9 billion in all means of financing for fiscal year 2018, and $7.3 billion in general funds and $14.1 billion in all financing means for fiscal year 2019.

HB 100 has a Senate companion, Senate Bill 192, and differences will be worked out in HB 100 — probably during the two-week conference committee period at the end of April.

Pay Raises For Public Workers?

Given all the uncertainties in the current session, there is bound to be a lot of horse-trading between now and April 30, because final budget numbers dictate so much of what can or cannot happen in legislation and appropriations.

Major variables include settlements with 14 public sector collective bargaining units, and whether the state will transfer its share of the Oahu surcharge on the general excise tax to Honolulu to pay for the beleaguered rail project.

In spite of the sobering money numbers, the mood in the Finance Committee was buoyant.

Rep Matthew LoPresti Finance committee meeting Capitol. 8 march 2017
Rep. Matthew LoPresti, standing, with fellow Finance Committee members Isaac Choy, left, and Bert Kobayashi. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Luke did not take to task any agency head, as is her wont. (Nearly everyone chose to stand on their written testimony rather than speak before the committee.)

Conference Room 308 was so crowded that many people lingered in the hallway, talking story about family, friends and politics. On more than a few occasions, potential testifiers had to be corralled, unaware that Luke had called for their department.

Luke also asked Machida to lead everyone in singing “Happy Birthday” to Rep. Romy Cachola. He did, and they did.

The full House is scheduled to vote on the budget bill next week.

Budget funding highlights as of Wednesday:

Department of the Attorney General

  • $110,000 to maintain the Criminal Justice Information System
  • $101,000 to maintain the upgraded, automated Fingerprint Identification System
  • $95,000 for the Hawaii Integrated Justice Information Sharing Program

Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism

  • $3,000,000 for an excelerator program in the High Technology Development Corporation
  • $80,000 to promote Hawaii as a destination for films

Department of Budget and Finance

  • $15,001,114 to centralize vacation payout for general funded employees statewide
  • $3,695,200 for upgrades to the Employees’ Retirement System

Department of Defense

  • $360,000 for a 10-year motor vehicle replacement plan
  • $80,000 for a Hawaii State Fusion Center director

Department of Education

  • $5,600,000 to expand the Hawaii Keiki Healthy and Ready to Learn Program
  • $2,027,645 to support the Office of Hawaiian Education
  • $1,040,593 and 20 positions to expand pre-K programs in DOE preschools
  • $844,776 and 18 positions to support children struggling with homelessness in the DOE
  • $500,000 to address repair and maintenance backlogs in state libraries
  • 40 preschool teachers and 20 educational assistants to support special education students in DOE preschools

Department of Human Services

  • $3,000,000 for Rapid Re-Housing program to keep people out of homelessness
  • $3,000,000 for Housing First Program to keep chronically homeless individuals in housing
  • $1,500,000 for homeless outreach
  • $300,000 for homeless shelter maintenance and repair
  • $2,100,000 for low income family and elderly housing facilities
  • $400,000 for services for child victims of sex trafficking

Department of Human Resources Development

  • $3,274,000 for workers’ compensation claims
  • $350,000 for a pilot program to improve the effectiveness of employees
  • $101,080 for professional development courses for state employees

Department of Health

  • $40,710,951 for various federal grants to support the Disease Outbreak Control Program ($24,000,000 for support to local hospitals responding to emergency outbreaks, $13,200,000 for immunizations and vaccines for children, and $3,510,951 for other grants)
  • $4,314,600 for a voluntary family planning program grant
  • $4,145,695 for Kupuna Care
  • $3,000,000 as a match for the maternal, infant and early childhood home visiting grant
  • $1,700,000 for Aging and Disability Resource Centers
  • $1,912,836 to rebase home and community care service subsidy
  • $422,540 for vector control
  • $300,000 to increase the inventory of clean and sober housing
  • $157,168 and one program specialist position for the Long Term Care Ombudsman
  • $150,000 for a statewide “telehealth” pilot project
  • $102,000 for two epidemiological specialists to help with surveillance of disease outbreak

Department of Labor

  • $515,386 and one position for Disability Compensation Division modernization
  • $205,00 for Community Services block grant
  • $41,197 for Commodity Supplemental Food Program federal grant

Department of Land and Natural Resources

  • $4,000,000 for Hawaii Invasive Species Council operations
  • $3,405,749 for native resources and fire protection operations
  • $2,832,996 for Forest Reserve Management and Development operations
  • $500,000 for the Bureau of Conveyances to modernize accessibility to records
  • $500,000 to implement an Integrated Information Management System
  • $250,000 for the Ala Wai Watershed Initiative

Department of Transportation

  • $124,400,000 for 10-year replacement plans for motor vehicles, equipment and ongoing base funding for special maintenance projects ($35,500,000 for airports, $17,600,000 for harbors and $71,300,000 for highways)
  • $4,000,000 for highway cleanup services in Department of Transportation
  • $3,000,000 in state matching funds for airport rescue and firefighting vehicles statewide

University of Hawaii System

  • $600,000 and six psychologist positions to address mental health concerns of students enrolled in the University of Hawaii System

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