Honolulu City Council members and Mayor Kirk Caldwell have been arguing for weeks over how much public money should be set aside for nonprofit special interest groups in the new city budget.
Now, four council members have submitted their own floor drafts of the $2 billion operating budget, which is expected to be voted on Wednesday.
Over the past several weeks Civil Beat has been reporting on the fight over earmarks. In all, these earmarks amount to about $8.3 million, and are in addition to $5.5 million that voters approved to give to charities.
Caldwell wants the $8.3 million put to other uses, and some council members agree with him.
One of Caldwell’s main concerns about the earmarks is that the money is going to special interest groups that aren’t being vetted through the city’s newly created grants-in-aid program. The program requires nonprofits to submit applications and get approval from a commission before they get city funding.
He also is worried that the way the city council balanced the budget could impact the city’s bond rating.
It appears some council members have heard the mayor’s plea, or at least had enough of their own concerns to submit new operating budget drafts that are slated to be voted on Wednesday.
Here’s a brief breakdown of who submitted a new budget plan and what makes it different from the current proposal.
Breene Harimoto, District 7:
Harimoto has been the loudest voice on the council when it came to cutting earmarks.
During budget committee hearings he attacked the practice of inserting money for special interests, eliciting a response from Council Chair Ernie Martin, who is perhaps the most prolific council member when it comes to line-item inserts.
Harimoto’s proposal cuts much of the money that was included for nonprofits and diverts about $3 million of that toward restoring bus routes in Honolulu.
The leftover money would go into a special account reserved for vacant positions. This account will be used by the administration to pay for rising union costs — mainly pay raises — and hiring more staff.
The budget committee chair doesn’t change much in her new proposal. She said it’s mainly a new draft that makes some technical changes.
No new money has been added, making it appear that she will support the current version of the spending plan that keeps the earmarks and uses the $20 million in cash that was set aside for equipment purchases to help balance the budget.