The Legislature is looking to speed up development of the new Aloha Stadium.

Last year, lawmakers cut the stadium’s anticipated funding in half. The project has been stalled while development teams and officials wait for financial commitments from the state.

They may get that commitment this year. On Thursday, the Senate unveiled a draft of the state operating budget that would funnel $350 million to the stadium development. In the past, lawmakers contemplated funding the stadium with general obligation bonds, akin to a government loan.

Lawmakers are awash in cash after Hawaii’s economy rebounded from the Covid-19 pandemic. Stadium funding is just one big ticket item in the newest draft of the proposed $9.2 billion operating budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

The Senate’s budget proposal sets aside $350 million to help finance a new stadium in Halawa. Courtesy: Crawford Architects

The Senate’s proposal also sets aside millions of dollars for retirement benefits, increased teacher pay, expanded education access and funding for the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.

Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Donovan Dela Cruz said providing stadium officials with cash instead of bonds would allow them easier access to money.

“It’ll allow them to move faster,” he said.

State Comptroller Curt Otaguro agreed. He said having cash available will also give the state greater flexibility in how the money can be spent.

He noted funding challenges in the past and questions that lingered for years over how exactly the state would finance the project.

“It went everywhere – upside down, inside out, backward, forward. How we going finance this thing?” Otaguro said.

He said it’s encouraging to see the Legislature commit money to the development, which is expected to be the centerpiece of a 98-acre New Aloha Stadium Entertainment District.

Three development teams are competing for a chance to build and eventually operate the new stadium. The $350 million would represent the state’s investment in the stadium, which is expected to cost upward of $400 million.

The chosen developer would pick up the rest of the costs of construction and be expected to maintain and operate the stadium. Otaguro said the state funds also could be used to help cover availability payments. But ultimately how the project is fully financed won’t be known until the state evaluates bids from the development teams.

Maintenance Of Effort

The latest budget proposal also sets aside $94 million to cover a pay bump for more than 8,000 senior teachers in the state. Another $34 million will help cover pay bonuses for teaching positions the state Department of Education has had trouble filling.

Some public school teachers could see a big pay bump this year as lawmakers find ways to get more money to the DOE and UH. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

Dela Cruz also inserted $14 million into the budget to help cover costs for a new Mauna Kea stewardship authority. Lawmakers are considering removing the University of Hawaii from its role in managing the mountain. House Bill 2024 is expected to clear the Senate Ways and Means Committee on Friday, according to Dela Cruz.

The DOE and the UH could see much more money coming their way. How much exactly is yet to be determined, Dela Cruz said.

The American Rescue Plan act requires legislatures to maintain proportional funding to public educational programs. The requirement is called a “maintenance of effort.” That means for this year, when the budget is settled, the DOE must still receive about 26% of the operating budget while UH must also receive at least 6% of the budget.

The teacher pay increases that are now part of the operating budget were originally moving through session in two separate bills. Dela Cruz stuck funding into the budget to make it easier to calculate the maintenance of effort. Those pay increases also help offset any budget increases other departments may be seeing.

Dela Cruz didn’t have a figure for how much more money lawmakers may be required to spend on the DOE and UH. But he anticipated the Legislature will make a number of one-time expenditures on things like maintenance projects for the DOE and UH to get their budgets up to a level that would meet the federal requirements.

Read the budget highlights below.

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