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Big state budget proposal moves forward with anticipated record surplus

The state Senate is ready to vote on a draft budget that increases spending — thanks to higher than expected revenues that have resulted in a big surplus.
Published: Apr. 8, 2022 at 9:26 PM HST|Updated: Apr. 9, 2022 at 2:14 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state Senate is ready to vote on a draft budget that increases spending — thanks to higher than expected revenues that have resulted in a big surplus.

The full Senate is scheduled to vote on the proposal next week after it was passed by the Ways and Means Committee.

Lawmakers said a lot of the anticipated record surplus will go toward restoring critical programs and services, many of which were stalled during the COVID lockdown.

But some watchdog groups are cautioning against boosting the budget too quickly.

Local thinktank Grassroot Institute of Hawaii estimates the surplus could top $4 billion.

“Hawaii’s constitution says that if the surplus is too high then they have to pay down debt or give some back to taxpayers or put some in the rainy day fund,” said institute Executive Vice President Joe Kent.

The surplus is letting lawmakers add a lot to the budget for the next two fiscal years, including new positions. “There’s money for athletic trainers,” said HNN political analyst Colin Moore. “I mean, it really is across the board. There are all of these things small and large that are being funded.”

Is it bloat? Senate Ways and Means Chairman Donovan Dela Cruz doesn’t think so.

“What we’re really doing is focusing on a lot of one-time expenses, repair and maintenance,” he said. “We are also making a lot of these positions non-recurring, just needed for specific projects.”

Some of those one-time expenses are big-ticket items, like $350 million to start the new Aloha Stadium.

But the proposal also sets aside money for programs that are underfunded, including $600 million for Hawaiian Homestead housing.

“Clearly the legislature is trying to balance this,” said Moore. “They do want to fund some of these big-ticket items, and Hawaiian Home Lands, in particular, stands out.”

Still under discussion is how much of that surplus could land in taxpayer pockets as a rebate.

“Each filer would be able to get $100 or $300, depending on their income, including their dependents,” said Dela Cruz.

“We have so much money that we could give $1,000 to taxpayers, and we would still have a $3 billion surplus,” said Kent.

One item not on the table: Giving more state money to the city’s controversial rail project.

There’s also the concern that state government may be growing too quickly.

“At the moment, the government is growing bigger and faster than the economy, and that’s not a good sign for economic health,” said Kent.

The full House and Senate chambers will vote on their budget proposals individually next week. Any differences — including the size of a tax rebate — will be hammered out in conference committees the following week.

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