Maui News

Legislative Conference Committee Begins Budget Negotiations

April 20, 2016, 8:40 AM HST
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Legislative Conference Committee Begins Budget Negotiations. Photo credit: Hawaiʻi State Legislature.

Legislative Conference Committee Begins Budget Negotiations. Photo credit: Hawaiʻi State Legislature.

House and Senate conferees began negotiations Tuesday, on a final version of HB1700, the state budget bill. Early agreement on a number of budget items included $10 million in FY2017 for the state’s Open Doors program to help low-income families pay for preschool. Last year, the Legislature funded $6 million for the program.

“I know personally that accessing early learning and supporting our children in school can be one of the largest expenses in a family’s budget,” said Jill N. Tokuda, chair of the Senate’s Ways and Means Committee. “Increasing our Preschool Open Doors Program funding by 67% will enable over 1,500 underserved children and families to access these opportunities across our state.”

Earlier in the session, the House Finance Committee and the Senate Ways and Means Committee crafted their respective versions of the budget. Today the committees announced agreement on funding $6.82 billion in general funds or the bulk of the operating expenses of the Executive Branch for the supplemental fiscal year 2016-17.

The Ige Administration has proposed a $7.16 billion budget for the next fiscal year.

Lawmakers will continue to meet to iron out differences between the two versions through April 29, the deadline for all fiscal bills to pass out of conference committee. A final conference draft will then be voted upon by the Legislature and if approved, will be sent to the Governor for his signature.

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“In crafting the House’s version of the state budget, we ultimately wanted to ensure the long-term fiscal stability of the state,” said Rep. Sylvia Luke, House Finance Committee Chair.

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“In doing so, we focused not only on one-time expenditures needed by our departments but, more importantly, scrutinized expenditures that committed the state to ongoing costs that would likely increase in the future. We will take that same approach during these critical negotiations.”

Luke said that approach meant exercising some level of restraint when looking at programs that commit the state to significant dollars for the long term. She also said that the House’s approach includes reinforcing the state’s emergency reserves, such as the “rainy day” fund, and ensuring that sufficient funds are available for long-term financial obligations such as the state’s unfunded liabilities.

Among the budget items agreed upon to date were:

  • $256,000 for an online statewide voter registration system
  • $150,000 for an unmanned aerial systems test site for Office of Aerospace Development
  • $437,740 for Hawaiʻi Emergency Management agency staffing for new disaster project
  • $670,000 for Alternative Teacher Route Programs (Teach for America)
  • $370,727 for security services statewide for public libraries
  • $160,715 for medical marijuana registry program
  • $250,000 for endangered species management
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The conference committee is scheduled to reconvene on Thursday, April 21, at 2 p.m. in room 309.

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