Congress’ $1.9 trillion stimulus package may provide some relief to state governments across the U.S.
But in Hawaii, state lawmakers are warning that some $1.6 billion in funds the state government is expected to get from that package may not be enough to shore up some of the major budget holes facing local leaders.
The state must still figure out a way to pay back more than $700 million worth of loans borrowed to keep unemployment payments flowing. And the Legislature is still scrambling to find funds that can save state programs facing proposed cuts under Gov. David Ige’s budget.
“There’s so many different, big buckets that we’re going to have to try to fill,” Senate Ways and Means Chairman Donovan Dela Cruz said Wednesday during a Civil Beat-sponsored update on the legislative session.
The federal relief package was among topics Dela Cruz, House Finance Chairwoman Sylvia Luke and Hawaii Chamber of Commerce CEO Sherry Menor-McNamara covered in a wide ranging forum as the Legislature reaches its midway point.
Dela Cruz and Luke are responsible for shepherding the state’s $7 billion operating budget each legislative session. The federal stimulus was expected to clear all the state’s budget woes, but the money committee chairs tempered that excitement Wednesday.
The $700 million unemployment insurance loan must be paid back in November, Luke said.
Businesses worried that they may be on the hook for helping the state pay back those loans, but Luke said Wednesday that the state should pick up the tab.
“We think it is the state’s responsibility,” Luke said. “We don’t want the unemployed population not to get paid.”
The $1.6 billion must also last the state through 2024, Luke said. So the money must be spread out over the next three years. Luke said a significant chunk will be deposited into the state’s rainy day fund, which lawmakers drained last year to help cover government expenses.
Luke also said most cuts and layoffs proposed in Ige’s budget should be saved. Those include some proposed cuts for HIV support programs like the state’s needle exchange program, as well as tuberculosis services and some language access services.
Blaze Lovell is spending a year as a local investigations fellow with The New York Times. He was previously a reporter for Civil Beat. Born and raised on Oahu, Lovell is a graduate of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.