Lawmakers and finance director talk budget options

By Jim Mendoza - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee said lawmakers are running out of options to close a $232 million shortfall in the budget cycle that ends in June.

"The only option really is to find monies that currently are in the state budget and try and divert them or really shut down spending," Sen. David Ige said.

State Budget and Finance Director Kalbert Young said Hawaii is in a "severe fiscal down cycle" that may require tapping special funds, cutting public education funding, and slashing funding  for the University of Hawaii, Public Safety and Health and Human Services.

"Those five departments make up more than three-fourths of the entire state budget. So where you're talking about $230 million in cuts -- it's going to hit one of those departments," he said.

As for the $1 billion deficit projected for fiscal years 2012 and 2013, all options are on the table.

Ige said balancing the budget is a three-pronged attack that includes the level of funding lawmakers can provide, labor savings gained in collective bargaining that's between the administration and public worker unions, and revenue enhancements.

"Clearly in all areas, the current financial situation demands that we re-look, re-think or revisit each and every one of those because of the change in the economic landscape," Ige said.

Budget balancing could include a hike in the general excise tax. But Young said Gov. Neil Abercrombie remains lukewarm to that idea.

"To this point he still maintains that that's not the most viable option for him," Young said.

Ige said senators took a closer look at the budget over the weekend. He said they are more aware of the issues and decisions they'll have to make.

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