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Abercrombie, Ige trade jabs on budget, health care

July 4, 2014 - 12:05am

HONOLULU — From the $12.1 billion state budget to President Barack Obama’s federal health care overhaul, Gov. Neil Abercrombie and state Sen. David Ige traded jabs in a Democratic primary debate for governor Thursday night in an exchange that highlighted tensions between Hawaii’s executive and legislative branches.

Abercrombie blamed Ige as unable to add correctly when the Legislature passed a budget that didn’t match its bond authorization bill — an issue that led to a veto on $45 million in shifted funds to avoid a special session. Ige said Abercrombie should have tried to exempt Hawaii right away from Obama’s health law to avoid the problems the state run exchange is grappling with now.

“What the Legislature does is set the boundaries and sets both the appropriations and the authorizations for the spending. But the quarterback that calls the plays is the governor,” Abercrombie said when asked about the state’s economic recovery from the Great Recession. “I’m the one that has the responsibility to make the tough decisions and face the hard choices.”

“I think we can all take credit for the recovery of the economy,” countered Ige, who said the Legislature had to cut Abercrombie’s proposed spending by $1 billion.

Ige, chairman of the state Senate’s Ways and Means committee, said he’s running to try to restore trust in government with a collaborative style.

“People feel disconnected,” he said. “It is about a government that would engage the communities and would be listening to their concerns.”

Abercrombie said his top priority for a second term would be pushing for public preschool for the state’s 4-year-olds. “There’s 17,000 of them out there right now that I want to see have a future,” he said.

On the Hawaii Health Connector, which had numerous setbacks including a delayed opening and software problems despite more than $200 million in federal grants, Abercrombie and Ige agreed the insurance exchange has been less effective in Hawaii than in other states because residents already had a strong health care law in the Prepaid Health Care Act, a 1974 law that requires employers to provide insurance for many employees.

“It’s disconnected from the Prepaid Health Care Act and the progressive policies that Hawaii has had all this time,” said Abercrombie, who in 2012 touted Hawaii as the first state to declare its intent to run a state exchange under the federal law.

Ige said Hawaii already knew its law was in place.

“I would have asked for that waiver up front,” he said.

Abercrombie and Ige also touched on other issues, including development near downtown Honolulu, education policy and health care for Micronesian migrants under the Compact of Free Association. The contenders debated Thursday night on “PBS Insights,” a televised one-hour roundtable with an informal format.