Calling the document a reflection of “the values we share as a community,” Gov. David Ige on Monday unveiled a proposed budget for the next two years that focuses on public education, housing and initiatives to protect the environment and promote agriculture.
Among other highlights, Ige is looking for $315 million for affordable housing and $125 million in matching funds for a flood mitigation project on the Ala Wai Canal in Honolulu for which the federal government has already appropriated $345 million.
Although the state’s overall operating budget is more than $15 billion, only about $7.5 billion comes from general funds controlled by the Legislature and about half is taken off the top for big-ticket fixed costs like debt service, Medicaid, and health and pension benefits for state workers.
That leaves a relatively small amount of discretionary funds that Ige and legislative leaders will decide how to spend over the next several months.
Ige’s proposal, which he outlined at a Capitol news conference, includes about $400 million for education infrastructure improvements, $14.3 million to renovate pre-kindergarten classrooms and $6 million for school repair and maintenance.
In addition, the governor has proposed expanding a program that offers free community college tuition to low-income students. Ige is asking for $19 million for the endeavor, which is called the Hawaii Promise Program.
Also in the request is just over $10 million for watershed protection and $13.1 million for irrigation system improvements.
One of the biggest items aside from education is housing. Ige wants $315 million for affordable housing over the next two years, including $200 million to build rentals and $40 million for the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands to help pay for infrastructure needed to develop lands for Native Hawaiian beneficiaries. That’s on top of $15 million for homeless services.
Rep. Sylvia Luke, chair of the House Finance Committee, said she had concerns with a number of requests. For example, she said, taxpayers doled out $235 million last session to develop rental housing. And she wants to know what happened to that before the state commits $200 million more.
Luke said she also had questions about the Ala Wai flood mitigation. She has had a testy relationship with Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell over using state tax money to help finance the Honolulu rail project, and she questioned whether the state should pay for what she said is essentially another Honolulu city works project.
The $125 million request is about 10 percent of the total $1.3 billion capital improvements budget request, Luke said. Even if the state does foot the bill for the matching funds, Honolulu residents will have to pay for ongoing repair and maintenance.
“It’s going to be the city taxpayer who will have to pay for this, and they need to be up front about it,” she said.
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