Hawaii taxpayers earning less than $100,000 annually could receive a $300 tax rebate from the state government. Meanwhile, those earning more than $100,000 could get a rebate of $100, lawmakers announced Wednesday.

House Finance Chair Sylvia Luke said that she and Senate Ways and Means Chair Donovan Dela Cruz have reached a tentative agreement to revive a proposal that would help to kick some of the state’s $2 billion budget surplus back to residents.

The rebates are expected to cost the state about $250 million, Dela Cruz said on the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s “Spotlight Hawaii” program.

Luke added, “$250 million is a good investment at this time. People are continuing to struggle with the high gas prices and the cost of living.”

Mayors speak to Finance Committee Chairs WAM Senator Donovan Dela Cruz and Rep Sylvia Luke.
A proposal from the Legislature’s money committee chairs would give taxpayers rebates up to $300. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

She added that lawmakers are working with the governor and his administration to “see if the rebates can happen sooner rather than later.”

Under the legislative proposal, a family of four could receive up to $1,200.

Earlier this year, Gov. David Ige proposed giving $100 to each taxpayer and their dependents. That proposal, Senate Bill 3100, stalled in the Senate. Ige’s rebate program would have cost an estimated $110 million.

On Tuesday, the House Finance Committee advanced another measure, Senate Bill 514, that could be used as the vehicle to pass this new rebate program. Luke said during a hearing on the bill that the measure could also be used to make a deposit to the state’s rainy day fund.

Ige had proposed diverting $1 billion into that fund, which had been depleted slightly to help cover a budget hole brought on by the pandemic. That idea received pushback from the Legislature, which proposed using the budget surplus for other purposes.

The announcement comes as lawmakers get ready to advance the state budget bill. Dela Cruz is expected to announce changes to the $8.3 billion supplemental budget Thursday morning.

The House previously passed the budget bill, adding 48 new positions in the state child welfare office in the wake of the disappearance of a Waimanalo child, Isabella Kalua.

During the “Spotlight Hawaii” segment, Dela Cruz said that the new budget bill would add back funding for some positions cut during the pandemic but not all.

“We are not looking to restore positions that are no longer needed in today’s time and space as we look to transform and modernize government,” Dela Cruz said. “We are asking the departments to look at different types of positions that would be more effective, more efficient at providing services.”

He gave the example of “project engineers” at the state Departments of Education and Human Services. Those positions have been hard to fill as candidates tend to find higher-paying jobs in the private sector.

Dela Cruz suggested changing the job title to “project manager” to open up the field to those who may not have qualifications in engineering.

Meanwhile, lawmakers must grapple with other budget complications, including a federal requirement that the University of Hawaii and the DOE continue to receive about a third of the state’s operating budget.

“The more money we put into some of these things, we also need to consider what we will give the DOE and UH,” Dela Cruz said.

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