The Legislature’s critical conference committee period kicked off Tuesday at the Capitol with Hawaii lawmakers making earnest statements about how they have found a lot to agree on when it comes to the state’s $28 billion budget.

House Finance Chairwoman Sylvia Luke and Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Jill Tokuda even gave props to the Ige administration, thanking the governor’s staff for its willingness to scale back funding requests in light of reduced revenue forecasts.

While the budget has been slashed by hundreds of millions of dollars over the past few months, Luke and Tokuda said the House and Senate shared many funding priorities in common.

They include $48 million for Medicaid payment increases, $300,000 for a statewide tele-health pilot project and $600,000 for clean and sober housing for chronically homeless people.

WAM Chair Tokuda Vice Chair group photo after joint committee mtg2. 18 april 2017
Senate conferees on the budget bill, each wearing matching Disney-themed T-shirts, pose for photos after Tuesday’s meeting. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Legislators also increased by half a million dollars money going to a rapid re-housing program. Gov. David Ige had asked for $2.5 million, but it is now slated to receive $3 million because the program has been effective.

“We are looking to provide a budget that takes care of the basic programs we have in place, but does not spend more than necessary,” Luke said in a statement early Tuesday evening. “That is why we require all state departments and programs to be accountable for exactly what they spend and the services they provide.”

Said Tokuda:

“We are continuing to take a fiscally responsible approach to provide the priority needs for our community while ensuring the financial stability of our state’s resources and long term obligations.

“This means doing more with less and targeting funding towards those things that are both critically important and will sustain and grow our economy.”

Negotiations Continue

To those not following the budget legislation, House Bill 100, Luke and Tokuda reeled off a series of sequences, dashes and zeros that correspond to specific appropriations.

But to those hanging on every word, they learned a little bit more about how much there would be to run their respective departments and programs.

You can read more of the agreed-upon budget highlights below.

The money chairs, however, also acknowledge that there are “tough issues and differences” to deal with as the Legislature works toward an April 28 final decking deadline.

Without mentioning any specifics, Luke said the differences are “being negotiated.”

309 Budget WAM joint conference committee outside crowds. 18 april 2017
As usual, the budget meeting at the Capitol drew an overflow crowd before it began. Among those waiting was the governor’s director of Budget and Finance, Wes Machida (third from right). Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The Finance-WAM conference committee — one might call it “The Syl and Jill Show” — resumes Thursday in the same room (No. 309) and at the same time (2 p.m.) at the Capitol.

In the meantime, House and Senate conferees must hammer out their disagreements on dozens of other bills.

They include measures helping to fund Honolulu’s rail project, to set up a mail-in voting system by 2020, to better regulate child-care facilities, to decide what legal protections to provide to lifeguards, to tax Airbnb rental units and to use cameras to catch drivers running red lights.

Several measures regarding housing and homelessness are also still alive.

First up on the docket Wednesday afternoon is a measure pushed by the teachers’ union that would generate more tax money for schools.

Senate Bill 683 requires asking voters to amend the Hawaii Constitution to levy a surcharge on residential investment properties and visitors accommodations.

Finance Committee Chair Sylvia Luke WAM Chair Jill Tokuda before conference comm mtg2. 18 april 2017
Finance Committee Chairwoman Sylvia Luke and Ways and Means Chairwoman Jill Tokuda on Tuesday announced areas of agreement on the state’s budget. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2017

And this week concludes with what could be a contentious confirmation hearing on Friday for Gov. David Ige’s appointment of Tom Gorak to the Public Utilities Commission. It’s not clear whether the nominee has the votes.

Finally, there are lots of resolutions being considered over the next 10 days or so.

They range from the narrowly focused and arcane (e.g., setting up a “bona fide agricultural producer” task force to create a definition for the term “bona fide agricultural producer”) to the broad and profound (e.g., asking the state to prepare for a nuclear missile attack from North Korea).

The 2017 Legislature concludes May 4.

Other Highlights Of Agreed-Upon Budget Items:

  • $6.5 million in each fiscal year for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion Administration, Primary Prevention and Chronic Disease Management
  • $2.1 million in each fiscal year to support state family and elderly housing facilities in both years
  • $3.3 million in fiscal year 2018 for housing inmates in a non-state facility during renovation of the Halawa Correctional Facility
  • $2.9 million in both years for Medicare part B premium payments
  • $2.7 million in fiscal year 2018 to rebase provider rates for home and community based services
  • $3 million in each fiscal year for maintenance of effort for maternal infant early childhood home visiting grant

Budget worksheets detailing agreements and disagreements in the state, judiciary and Office of Hawaiian Affairs budget bills are available here.

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