Gov. wants hurricane relief funds to help balance budget

Lloyd Lim
Lloyd Lim
Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie
Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie
Kalbert Young
Kalbert Young
Gordon Ito
Gordon Ito

By Jim Mendoza - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - "If this isn't a hurricane it's a fiscal hurricane. If this isn't a rainy day believe me it's a downpour that's taking place right now," Gov. Neil Abercrombie said Wednesday. That's the reason he gives for wanting to raid the Hawaii Hurricane Relief Fund (HHRF).

Hawaii News Now met with the man who oversees the $117 million remaining in the account. He said every penny should stay right where it is.

"What we're doing here is saying we're going to have a hurricane fund but we're disabling the funding mechanism for it. I don't think that's good policy," said Lloyd Lim, acting executive director of the fund's board of directors.

The state set up the fund after Hurricane Iniki slammed Kauai in 1992, causing $1.8 billion in damage.

When private insurers left, the fund supplied hurricane policies for two-thirds of the residential home owner's market.

But it's been dormant since 2002 and insurance companies offer hurricane coverage.

Former governor Ben Cayetano said he would also use the fund in a budget crunch because the law stipulates where the money could go if the fund is no longer needed.

"When the state got out of the insurance business the money would go back into the general fund," he said.

But the state insurance commissioner maintains the fund should not be emptied in case another catastrophic hurricane hits Hawaii and insurers pull out of the market again.

"The reason why we recommended to keep $70 million was for HHRF to have the ability to buy reinsurance," Gordon Ito said.

The administration would need legislative approval to tap the fund.

Budget director Kalbert Young said he plans to pay it back within six months.

"We would want to make sure that a part of the strategy to utilize them also includes a strategy to refund or re-stand up those funds," he said.

The fund earns money from premiums, assessments on the insurance industry, and a mortgage recording fee.

Some of the money is invested with the interest going into the state's general fund.

Lim said draining the fund is short sighted.

"This short-term taking of the hurricane fund doesn't really solve the budget problem, it simply kicks the can down the road a year or two," he said.

Last year lawmakers gave Abercrombie approval to use $67 million of hurricane relief fund money to end school furlough days.

Now he wants the rest of it to close a bigger gap.

Copyright 2010 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved