The sound you are hearing — like a big wind blowing through the palms on a stormy night — is actually a huge sigh of relief in Hawaii as the final details of the $153 billion federal budget for fiscal year 2017 are finalized in Washington this week.
Two months ago, it appeared that many expenditures important to the islands were on the chopping block, including money for Native Hawaiian services, health care, education, legal services for the poor and the Coast Guard.
President Donald Trump’s draconian proposed budget, released in March, indicated he was planning to slash the budgets of many government agencies, raising concerns among many local social-service providers.
But after intense negotiation on Capitol Hill, Republicans ultimately gave Democrats many of the things they wanted in exchange for supporting a $21 billion increase in the military budget, something adamantly sought by Trump and the GOP. The total $153 billion budget is $12.8 billion higher than the budget for fiscal year 2016.
Hawaii won on both sides — funding was retained or boosted for many of the social services vital to the state and its residents, and it is likely to be the beneficiary of the boost in military spending as well.
“Hawaii got almost everything we sought,” said Andy Winer, chief of staff to U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, who serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee. “The Republicans essentially buckled, and we funded nearly all of Hawaii’s priorities.”
‘Democrats Are Happy’
The budget includes funding for child-nutrition programs, $22.8 billion; $385 million for the Legal Services Corp.; $75 million for a new ocean survey vessel for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; $2.93 billion for the National Park Service; $149.8 million each to the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for Humanities; $150 million for subsidized air service (which includes flights to neighbor islands); $26 million for coral reef conservation; and $445 million for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the same as last year.
The Coast Guard received some $8.25 billion for discretionary spending, and an additional $163 million for overseas contingency operations. The funding will also allow the Coast Guard to purchase six fast-response cutters and provide funds to buy an icebreaker.
Trump is expected to sign the appropriations bill late this week.
The fiscal year 2018 budget process will begin late this month, when Trump unveils a more detailed version of next year’s proposed budget. Then the battle over budget priorities will begin anew.
Winer told Civil Beat that Schatz determined his top priorities in 2016, monitored them as the appropriations process developed over the past year, and engaged in some horse-trading with Republican colleagues to get their help in securing the items Hawaii most wanted.
“To say the Democrats are happy about it would be an understatement,” U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa told Civil Beat. “It was a surprisingly good deal,” she said, noting that the border wall was left unfunded, funding for Planned Parenthood was not cut and Republicans dropped taking further action for now to punish cities that have declared themselves sanctuaries for immigrants.
Hanabusa, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, said much of the defense spending money will come to the Pacific area because the nation’s major military threats are posed by North Korea and China. The Pacific Command is based in Honolulu.
Hanabusa, the former chairwoman of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transit, also noted that the appropriations bill provides for the final portion of funding for the rail project, some $244 million, which would complete the $1.55 billion federal share in the funding agreement with the federal government — assuming the Federal Transit Administration releases the money.
The East-West Center at the University of Hawaii will receive $16.7 million, almost $6 million more than the amount proposed in March by Trump.
“The East-West Center is truly grateful to Senator Schatz and the Hawaii delegation, along with other supporters on the Hill and in the administration, for their efforts in securing our funding,” said EWC President Richard R. Vuylsteke, in a statement to Civil Beat.
Native Hawaiian Funding
Advocates for funding for Native Hawaiian service programs were also reassured.
The budget includes $2 million for Native Hawaiian housing, up from $500,000 requested by President Barack Obama; $14.4 million for Native Hawaiian health centers; and $47.2 million for Native Hawaiian education.
The Office of Hawaiian Affairs “is pleased to see that even in these changing times, federal policymakers continue to see the need to support these important Native Hawaiian federal programs,” said Kamanaopono Crabbe, OHA’s chief executive officer.
“We’re very grateful and relieved there are no additional cuts for this calendar year,” said Sergio Alcubilla, a spokesman for the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii, which provided legal services to 8,500 low-income people in the state in 2016. Alcubilla said that 25 percent of the society’s funding comes from the federal government.
In a news conference at the White House on Monday, Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said the Trump administration was also pleased with the outcome of the budget negotiations.
Mulvaney said the $21 billion in additional defense spending would permit the Pentagon to buy more helicopters and ships, and that although the president was blocked at this time from building the wall he seeks along the nation’s southern border, that he would nevertheless be able to proceed with road infrastructure and repairs on gates, items he said would allow the wall construction project to proceed within the next year.
“We are ahead of where we expected to be,” Mulvaney told reporters.
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A Kailua girl, Kirstin Downey is a special correspondent for Civil Beat. A longtime reporter for The Washington Post, she is the author of "The Woman Behind the New Deal," "Isabella the Warrior Queen" and an upcoming biography of King Kaumualii of Kauai. She can be reached at email@example.com.