Lawmakers approve state budget
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - After months of number crunching and heated debate, lawmakers passed a two-year state budget on Tuesday. They also voted on more than 100 bills.
"It was hard. It was a $1.3 billion dollar shortfall, so we made about $800 million in cuts upon the Abercrombie and Lingle budget, so that was tough," explained House finance chair Marcus Oshiro.
"Even if the budget is balanced with all of these revenue enhancements, and all that through June 30, 2013, what happens on July 1, 2013? We're still in the same problem because we haven't changed the direction," said Senate minority leader Sam Slom.
Lawmakers used all of the rainy day fund to balance the welfare program for this current fiscal year. The budget just approved is $11 billion dollars for the fiscal year that starts July 1, and %10.9 billion the next year.
Legislators closed the budget gap by increasing taxes, cutting programs and tapping into the state's savings.
"We also used about $42 million of the Hawaii Hurricane Relief Fund, leaving about $75 million for the contingency should the Council on Revenue go back in on the 23rd and adjust downwards," Oshiro said.
"The problem is we raid these funds, and then they're gone, and that really is not a healthy fiscal plan," said Slom.
Legislators also passed out measures to cut GET exemptions and income tax deductions, and cap the counties' share of the transient accommodation tax. They also approved a measure giving state recognition to Native Hawaiians, which supporters said was a crucial step toward federal recognition. Another bill lawmakers voted in favor of increases instructional time in public schools.
"We're putting off half of the schools, the elementary schools for another year, and all of the secondary schools, and we're still debating at this late date the definition of instructional hours," said Slom.
"This is not as easy to comply with as simply putting dollars on the table. There are logistical issues, and I would ask that any of you that have concern about this talk to every single one of your principals," countered Senate education committee chair Jill Tokuda.
The budget and other bills that passed final floor votes now head to the governor's office. Lawmakers continue voting on Thursday which is the final day of the session.
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