Frustrated by millions of dollars in cuts the House made earlier this month to the overall state budget bill, some of Gov. David Ige’s department heads appealed to the Senate for relief Thursday morning at the Capitol.
The Ways and Means Committee, chaired by Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, listened to their testimony but gave no indication of what changes might be made to the $7.4 billion spending plan for fiscal 2019, which starts July 1, or the $2.1 billion proposed budget for construction projects.
The committee deferred decision-making on House Bill 1900 for one week. Any differences between the two chambers’ budget drafts will be negotiated in a joint conference committee in April.
“We have serious concerns with this measure,” Health Director Virginia Pressler said.
The House Finance Committee, chaired by Rep. Sylvia Luke, slashed 67 vacant positions — $9.4 million — from the department’s budget request. Many had been vacant for more than 18 months. The committee cut 203 vacant positions throughout state government when it heard the budget bill March 8.
Pressler said about three-fourths of the positions cut from her department are specialty jobs, such as nurses and psychiatrists, that have been “extremely difficult” to fill and remain much needed despite how long they have been vacant.
“This will seriously compromise our ability to address the most serious issues in our community,” she said, noting kupuna care, water quality testing and substance abuse.
The Lieutenant Governor’s Office, now headed by former Attorney General Doug Chin, was fretting about budget cuts too.
Keira Kamiya, chief of staff, said it needs the three positions that the House eliminated as it works on initiatives to combat opioid abuse, improve after-school programs and include more locally grown food in schools.
Cheryl Park, director of the Office of Information Practices, implored senators to fund her request for $115,000 to make some of her staff’s salaries more competitive with attorneys who work in other state agencies.
Ige included the request in his proposed budget but the House nixed it. Park said she’s losing attorneys — and their historical knowledge about OIP — to other departments.
She said if the Legislature really wants to help the office, by making its salaries more competitive and reducing its backlog of cases dealing with public records requests, then lawmakers should also add $200,000 for two new positions.
“Think of OIP as a growing family with young children,” Park said, explaining that her office has half the staff and double the workload as it did years ago.
The University of Hawaii also sounded alarms over the $1.8 million in additional funding that the House provided out of the $16.8 million initially sought by the Board of Regents. Ige’s budget included $6.7 million extra for 2019.
The Senate has about $66 million more to work with for fiscal 2019 than the House did thanks to a rosier general-fund forecast last week by the state Council on Revenues. But Dela Cruz has already signaled that he intends to take a conservative approach to the budget and build up the rainy day fund.
The Ways and Means Committee is expected to take action on the budget bill at 10:45 a.m., Thursday, in Room 211 at the Capitol.
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