Gov. Abercrombie: $45M cuts needed to balance state budget

Published: Jun. 10, 2014 at 1:15 PM HST
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Governor Neil Abercrombie (at podium)
Governor Neil Abercrombie (at podium)
Sylvia Luke
Sylvia Luke
Senator David Ige statement
Senator David Ige statement

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Governor Neil Abercrombie announced Monday he will have to veto about $45 million in Legislative-approved spending in order to balance the state's budget.

"A major legal challenge has emerged that must be addressed," Abercrombie said.  "The budget bill and the bond authorization bill must balance. They do not.  Short of a special session, we have a proposal to reduce the imbalance to $46 million and to allow for fiscal operations to begin July 1."

According to the State Attorney General and Director of the Department of Budget and Finance, lawmakers passed a budget bill that authorizes projects which exceed the amount they certified in the bond declaration bill.

"You either do your job or you don't.  I have a job to do, I'm not about to sign a bill that is close -- I'm not about to sign a bill that is almost legal," said Abercrombie.  "The budget bill has a column, you add it up. The bond authorization bill has a column, you add it up. They're supposed to match.  They didn't," Abercrombie said.

Lawmakers do have a solution.  They plan to cut the Department of Education's budget to cover the imbalance, but will need to re-instate the funding next legislative session.

"I'm proposing a course of action that will minimize the pain and capitalize as much as possible on my ability to be able to correct this course of action with which I've been presented," Abercrombie said.

DOE officials say the funding reduction will not delay current projects.

"I'm glad that the department is acutely aware of the predicament the Governor has with regards to reconcile the budget, and has the capacity to help -- but there is certain risk and that risk is January 1 of next year, if that appropriation doesn't come back in," explained Raymond L'Heureux, Assistant Superintendent of the Office of School Facilities and Support Services.

Governor Neil Abercrombie held a hastily-called news conference Monday afternoon to sound the alarm about a nearly $46 million budget discrepancy, but critics and analysts believe the announcement may have been more about political maneuvering and less about the state's finances.

House Finance Committee Chair Sylvia Luke says she and other lawmakers were blindsided by Monday's press conference, since she says they helped come up with a solution last week Friday.

"I was very surprised there was a press conference.  Frankly, I'm very disappointed," Luke said.  "Unfortunately, about two weeks ago we were informed by the Executive Branch that the two bills were not in alignment and since then we've been working with the Executive Branch to come up with a solution.  When I first heard about it, I wasn't surprised -- because at the end of last session the Legislature was in a mad scramble with the Turtle Bay issue after the Governor's office came down last minute during the last week of the Legislature and presented that they came to an agreement on the Turtle Bay conservation easement so the Legislature was scrambling to find an additional $40 million."

"I think that during an election year a lot of things get blown out of proportion and there is a simple solution to this," Luke said.  "The Governor has a primary race and if he wants to pick a fight with Senator Ige, then he should do that.  This is an election year and both David Ige and Neil Abercrombie should battle it out, but to bring the entire Legislature into their election fight is not reasonable and it puts a cloud on our relationship.  No matter what happens, I'm still going to be around and my staff will still be around and this type of handling of the situation actually hurts our continuous relationship."

Abercrombie's announcement today falls two months to the day from his primary race against Senate Ways and Means committee Chair David Ige.

"I became aware of the technical errors in the State Budget and the bond authorization bill last week, and have worked with the Department of Budget and Finance and House and Senate leadership to develop the alternatives to correct the errors.  We have agreed on the actions required and avoided a special session that would increase costs.  The errors are technical in nature and are easily resolvable if the legislature and Administration work together on a solution. I am ready and willing to do this to quickly resolve the situation," Senator Ige said in a statement released to Hawaii News Now Monday evening.

If the Governor hoped this money mix-up would score him political points, analysts say it's more likely to hurt him than help.

"If the Governor meant this as an attack on Ige, than it was a rather clumsy one because it does drag all of the other state legislators into this political fight and the only result of that is going to be more animosity between these two sides and it will have negative effects on the sort of legislation and management we get," described Colin Moore, a political science assistant professor at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa.

"As a political analyst, this is the unfortunate result of what happens when you have a very divided party in a state that's run by a single party that this very personal disagreements, in some ways political disagreements in campaign season, end up having real effects in public policy," Moore said.

"I don't know what the Governor is thinking.  I'm not sure what the political motivations would be, but it's easy to see why people would jump to that conclusion.  This is an awkward situation where you have the Governor running against David Ige.  One of the reasons why this press conference was called, clearly, was to lay some of the blame with the state Legislature and obviously David Ige plays a major role here," Moore said.  "You're going to see this play out in the campaign.  Likely the Governor is going to claim that Ige, for example, has not been as responsible a manager of state finances as he claims to be, which of course, is one of his major campaign promises.  So I expect this will come up.  So I don't think we've heard the last of this episode."

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