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Early childhood education, unfunded liabilities, tech programs top priorities

By Lara Yamada
Published On: Mar 27 2013 06:43:00 PM HST

Senate lawmakers released their budget proposal at 200 million dollars more than what house lawmakers want, but they have yet to decide how to pay for one big expense.

HONOLULU -

"We've cut all of the discretionary funds, travel money, utility money, we've basically cut every opportunity out of the budget except for personnel," said Ways and Means Committee Chair Sen. David Ige.

Ige said they are budgeting for nearly a 1,000 unfunded positions cut from the House bill -- many positions already or about to be filled.

And, the Senate bill chips away at unfunded liabilities with a total of $300 million for future health benefits for retirees.

Some $390 million is slated to fix Hawaii's roads and freeways.

It's a modest budget, but Sen. Michelle Kidani says it's a realistic one.

"It's not just the state; it's the city and the county working on road projects. So, you have to ask yourself, with only three paving companies in the state, how many projects are they really able to do," said Kidani.

"It's not all the way back to what the governor proposed, but it significantly moves the needle," said State Budget Director Kalbert Young.

Senators welcomed the governor's proposal, offering to pay for most of his early childhood learning programs, $8 million for Hawaii's entrepreneurs, and more than $100 million to bring Hawaii's antiquated tech infrastructure into the 21st century.

"Frankly, I think it's awareness for us, and having a CIO like Sonny Bhagowalia, who has brought to our attention to how far behind we are and I don't think many of us realized that," said Kidani.

Young said he's more concerned about a handful of bills still before lawmakers that would cut revenue streams, such as reductions in the solar tax credit, the transit accommodations tax, and taxes on Hawaii’s wealthiest individuals.

"Whether or not the state can afford all these tax credits at this point in time, even in light of some looming expenses out there such as collective bargaining, remains to be seen," he said.

As for funding union contracts, HSTA and the state reached a tentative contract earlier this week.

Ige said they've budgeted for 5 percent in retroactive pay, but not a 3 percent pay raise.

He said they've added blank bills to the legislative pile, to be able to get funding for pay raises this session, but said that could mean last-minute cuts to other programs.

"I think we've made investments that are most important at this point in time," he said. 

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