Tempers flare over proposal to slash city spending in bid to provide tax relief

Tempers flared at Honolulu Hale today after the mayor's cabinet accused the council of proposing drastic and damaging cuts to the city budget.
Published: Mar. 30, 2023 at 7:40 PM HST|Updated: Mar. 30, 2023 at 10:12 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Tempers flared at Honolulu Hale on Thursday after the Mayor Rick Blangiardi’s cabinet accused the council of proposing drastic and damaging cuts to the city budget.

Council Chair Tommy Waters vigorously defended the proposals as a way to provide tax relief for homeowners.

Waters supported setting the budget based on last year’s level, plus 5% to account for growth and pay raises, pointing out that prior budgets included money for positions that were never filled.

He added the effort would prevent property tax increases.

But City Budget and Finance Director Andrew Kawano told the Council Budget Committee that federal funds will stop flowing, requiring ;ocal taxpayer revenues to make up the difference.

He also took issue with the sudden presentation of the approach.

“I don’t feel like taking drastic measures during the budget process is the right way to do it,” Kawano said.

But Waters was not satisfied by that answer and said voters are demanding long-term cost cutting to make tax relief possible.

“Maybe that’s drastic,” Waters said. “But I think that’s what people are asking us to do.”

Rumors about job cuts also brought some workers to the council chamber, who Council member Matt Weyer tried to reassure.

“Folks who are in their city positions right now don’t need to be worried that they are going to be losing their job,” Weyer said.

Waters accused the administration of scare tactics.

“These comments and parading people in who are saying they are not going to have a job, that’s not fair to use,” Waters said. “That’s not fair to them and its certainly not fair to people watching on the news.”

But city Chief Information Officer Mark Wong said the cuts were potentially damaging to city services.

“I have never in my years seen a magnitude of proposed cuts at this stage,” Wong said.

“It’s pretty drastic.”

Waters again took offense.

“We are just going back to last year’s budget — yes or no — plus 5%?” he asked Wong.

Wong responded: “It looks like that.”

“Right,” Waters said as he waved his arm.

“So your saying you’ve never seen such drastic cuts before is not the truth because we are going back to last years budget! I mean let’s not play games here. If you wanna work with us, we’ll work with you.”

Even after that dressing down, Wong pointed out one reduction in subscriptions for computer services could have devastating effect. “We won’t have drivers license in the State of Hawaii. We won’t have motor vehicle registration, bicycle, motorcycle, moped, now electric scooter, real ID will go away,” Wong said.

Waters said his tactic was not to harm city services or take away anyone’s job.

This was only the first of multiple meetings on the city budget.