Abercrombie says state will 'retool' with new budget

Gov. Neil Abercrombie
Gov. Neil Abercrombie

By Ben Gutierrez - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Gov. Neil Abercrombie unveiled a state budget proposal for the next two years, calling it a starting point for discussion.

The budget plan actually was prepared before Abercrombie took office two weeks ago. While the proposal is lean, Abercrombie said it still doesn't include enough revenue to meet expenses.

The two-year budget plan calls for $5.8 billion in expenditures for the fiscal year that begins in July 2011, and $6.1 billion the following fiscal year. But according to the state Office of Budget and Finance, revenues will fall $410 million dollars short during the first fiscal year, and $361 million during the second year. Abercrombie called the shortfall a "sinkhole."

"We're in a hole and the hole got deeper because the costs of providing the services at the level, that in some instances we are required to do by law, are such that they're climbing," the governor said.

Abercrombie repeatedly said that he plans to "retool and reconfigure" the state's operations to make up the deficit. He said one way to do that is to keep money in the islands. "We're exporting money to the mainland for food, for oil, for prisoners," said Abercrombie. "The only thing we're not exporting is garbage. We can't apparently get the permits to do that. And when we do it, we're paying somebody else to take our garbage."

The governor said he doesn't plan to increase the general excise tax and will not lay off any state workers who are already on the job, but will probably cut positions that are already vacant or are not funded. Abercrombie also said he plans to create jobs with a significant capital improvement program, and said he would pursue every available source of federal funding. But he generally stayed away from offering more specifics on what retooling and reconfiguring will entail.

"I think the governor is very passionate in some of the proposals," said state Senate President Shan Tsutsui, who attended the governor's budget announcement along with House Speaker Calvin Say. "I'm not exactly sure what the details are, so we're going to be reviewing the proposals in the next few weeks, and hopefully we can get a better understanding of what his exact plan is."

The lack of revenue isn't limited to the upcoming budget. Abercrombie said the state is facing a $71.6 million shortfall for the remaining six months of the current fiscal year. The governor said he would request emergency appropriations to fund Medicaid and the Temporary Assistance of Needy Families program. Abercrombie also said he would have to request money to fund the operating requirements of the governor's and lieutenant governor's offices. According to the governor, the Executive offices have essentially no funds to operate for the next six months because of rising costs that were not addressed earlier.

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