Hawaii lawmakers rushed through the overall state budget bill Friday so they could move forward with a plan to appropriate $125 million in disaster aid for flood-damaged Kauai and parts of Oahu.

Senate Ways and Means Chair Donovan Dela Cruz and House Finance Chair Sylvia Luke announced some of the highlights of the $14.4 billion spending plan for next fiscal year, which starts July 1. It’s about $129 million more than Gov. David Ige’s administration had sought. 

“Extraordinary times require extraordinary efforts,” Luke said, adding that “money will not be a barrier for disaster relief.”

Joint Finance WAM budget meeting Chair Rep Sylvia Luke WAM Chair Sen Donovan Delacruz.
House Finance Chair Sylvia Luke and Senate Ways and Means Chair Sen Donovan Dela Cruz led negotiations on the overall state budget. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

In the overall budget, which includes $7.5 billion in general funds for next fiscal year, the House and Senate negotiators agreed to provide a lump sum of $15 million for homelessness initiatives rather than specify certain amounts for the various programs.

“State government can not be rigid,” Luke said. “We need to be as flexible with the population as we can.”

Other budget highlights include pay raises for the staff at the Office of Information Practices, which administers the state’s public records and open meetings law. The agency had sought $115,000 but will receive $100,000 for the raises, which OIP Executive Director Cheryl Kakazu Park said are necessary to reduce turnover.

Lawmakers provided $1.2 million for the Kupuna Caregivers program but inserted a proviso to change how the executive branch can administer it.

Ige had requested $600,000 to provide roughly $70 a day to caregivers, on a first-come, first-served basis. Instead, the new draft of the budget doubles that overall amount, but limits it to weekly payments so about 900 people can take advantage of it instead of 90.

“We are not confident that the executive has held up this program in a way that would service a maximum number of caregivers,” Luke said, adding that the money helps them cover costs associated with chores, care planning and medical services.

Lawmakers also agreed to provide $4.5 million for 24-hour ambulance services on the Big Island, Kauai and urban Oahu.

And the budget includes $7.1 million to boost payments for foster children and caregivers.

More budget details will be available when the money committees finalize their reports in the coming days. The full House and Senate are expected to give a final vote on the overall budget measure, House Bill 1900, on Wednesday.

That’s to be followed by a final vote on Senate Bill 192, a measure that Dela Cruz and Luke cobbled together earlier this week to provide $100 million for Kauai’s flood damage and $25 million for recovery efforts elsewhere in the state.

Both bills, assuming they pass the Legislature next week as expected, will then head to Gov. David Ige for his approval. The governor also has discretion over how and when to use the funding.

Rep Nicole Lowen in joint senate/house finance final budget announcement.
Rep. Nicole Lowen had the lead on the House side for the grants-in-aid to nonprofits. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2018

House and Senate budget negotiators also reached an agreement Friday on the overall Capital Improvement Projects budget of more than $4.6 billion and the annual grants-in-aid package to nonprofits.

CIP highlights include funding for schools, roads, tax system modernization, watershed protection and airport improvements.

The Legislature also doled out $30 million in grants to more than 120 nonprofits — the same amount that lawmakers distributed last year.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that $20 million in grants were awarded.

Winners include the Bishop Museum, Blood Bank, Hawaii Agricultural Foundation and Yoga School of Kailua.

Goodwill, the African American Diversity Cultural Center Hawaii and E Aloha Hula Halau were among the groups not chosen.

Rep. Nicole Lowen took the lead on reviewing grant applications.

Join the conversation in-person at Civil Beat’s upcoming Civil Cafe event, “Legislative Wrap-up 2018,” on Wednesday, May 2, at noon at the Capitol. Go to our RSVP page to register and for more information.

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