- Special Projects
More funds for teacher pay, scholarships and fixing Hawaii’s aging infrastructure are among Gov. David Ige’s top budget priorities heading into the legislative session in January.
Ige rolled out his financial plan Monday afternoon at the Capitol. The supplemental budget, which includes additions to the two-year budget approved earlier this year, would add $429 million to cover various state programs next fiscal year, which begins July 1.
The plan would also add a whopping $1.4 billion worth of capital improvements statewide for projects including repairs to schools, adding an extra eastbound lane to a portion of the H-1 and startup costs to replace the old and overcrowded Oahu jail.
Ige has also asked state departments to budget contingency funds for law enforcement operations related to protests on Mauna Kea against the Thirty Meter Telescope.
The state’s operating budget would total $15.7 billion this fiscal year, a 0.4% increase, and $16.2 billion, a 2.7% increase, in 2021. The current capital improvements budget would stay the same this year at $2.3 billion, but would increase 26% in 2021 to $2.6 billion.
“It’s focused on keeping momentum on those important policy priorities we support,” Ige said during a news conference. “This supplemental request makes strategic investments in the program that cannot wait until the next biennium budget.”
The funding requests still need to be vetted and approved by the Legislature.
A $44 million request spread over two years for hard-to-fill teaching positions and at charter schools topped Ige’s list. The Board of Education approved the pay raises last week, which go into effect in January regardless of legislative approval.
Ige is relying on a projected carryover balance of $606.6 million to float many of the funding requests. He said that his administration has no plans to propose tax legislation to help cover costs.
The supplemental budget also plans for more than $220 million worth of improvements to schools statewide.
The University of Hawaii will ask lawmakers again for $19 million to expand the Hawaii Promise program to the four-year universities. It’s a scholarship meant to cover costs of attendance after other financial aid has already been applied.
The Legislature denied a similar request last session, but UH plans to come with a reworked formula for the scholarship, which would dole out money depending on a student’s Pell Grant and enrollment status.
Notably, a $2.6 million request by UH for more mental health professionals across the 10-campus system was cut down to $800,000 to fund psychologists at the community colleges only.
UH can expect $86.5 million worth of renovations and improvements under Ige’s new plan.
Hawaii’s jails and prison system can also expect some improvements. The budget request includes $30 million for a health care unit at the Halawa Correctional Facility and $20 million for planning the relocation of the Oahu Community Correctional Center.
The Department of Public Safety will also ask for $560,000 to fund 15 positions at the Maui Community Correctional Center, where inmates rioted this year.
Ige said the state is pursuing two routes for the OCCC relocation. The state is working on an environmental study for a site in Aiea while Ige’s office talks to Hawaii’s congressional delegation about acquiring the Federal Detention Center near the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu.
Rep. Gregg Takayama, a longtime ally of Ige’s, first proposed the FDC takeover earlier this year. However, that proposal failed to pass the Legislature.
The big push to capital improvement projects was spurred by the state’s improved bond rating and low interest rates on bonds, Ige said.
“This is the time to invest in critical infrastructure that has been delayed or put off for many years,” he said.
Some of those projects could be $20 million for public housing, another $20 million for development of Hawaiian Home Lands lots, $151 million for airport improvements and more than $495 million for state highway improvements.
The proposals still need to clear state lawmakers, who come to session each year with their own funding priorities.
Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, who chairs the Ways and Means Committee, said that the Legislature should be open to the governor’s ideas.
“But there will be questions,” he said.
Some of those questions include how certain funding proposals — like a $5 million ask for homeless sweeps of state lands or a $20 million request to establish farm lots in Kunia — fit in with the administration’s broader goals of ending homelessness or diversifying the economy.
“I agree with a lot of things the governor has said,” Dela Cruz said. “I just want to see how they fit into a more concrete plan.”
The Senate will be digging into those issues during budget hearings with various committees starting Jan. 6. That’s the same week that the Council on Revenues plans to release funding projections for the state, which will give lawmakers a clearer picture of what can actually be funded.
One of those murkier funding projections is just how much the state is willing to spend to keep up law enforcement activities on Mauna Kea. Ige danced around questions regarding how long law enforcement will stay in a standoff with the activists who have held a key intersection on Mauna Kea Access Road since July.
Leaders of the movement have made clear that they will not move until TMT abandons its plans. The state also has not budged since the protest was reignited in July.
Ige reiterated his support for the project, and said that he has been in contact with TMT officials to evaluate their needs.
Law enforcement operations have cost more than expected, the governor said. But he declined to say how much money the state would be asking for to cover those costs.
The budget documents show that the departments of Public Safety, Defense, Land and Natural Resources, Transportation and the attorney general plan to ask for more than $80 million spread out over two years for “public safety operational requirements.”
The governor’s office said that budget item could cover costs related to Mauna Kea but could also be for day-to-day activities.
Only DLNR’s budget request specifically mentions Mauna Kea and the TMT protests.
“This on-going operation is expected to continue for an extended period,” the department says in a budget narrative, adding that the department’s activities on Mauna Kea have pulled resources from its other enforcement efforts.
“Current funding will not be able to sustain the Division’s required participation in this operation,” the department said.
Ige’s full supplemental budget can be found here.
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