Deadline looms to decide state budget


HONOLULU — Hawaii lawmakers are confronting a deadline to pass the state budget, but they’re still deciding how to work out key issues that include a historic land-preservation deal and funding for a slew of nonprofits.

Legislative appropriations committees have until Friday night to reach agreement on all aspects of the state’s $12 billion budget.

One major question is how the state will raise $40 million to pay for its share of a conservation deal at Turtle Bay Resort on Oahu’s North Shore. Gov. Neil Abercrombie had announced a $48.5 million deal last week to preserve more than 660 acres of land forever. The City of Honolulu would kick in $5 million, and the Trust for Public Land would provide $3.5 million.

Lawmakers in the Senate are committed to preserving the property, but they thought the deal would take years to complete, said Sen. David Ige, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

“Although we were made aware of this settlement agreement during the final days of this legislative session, I am working very hard to find a way to fund it,” Ige said.

But the governor had provided the Legislature with a report on Nov. 30, explaining that he was working on negotiating the deal throughout the session, said Blake Oshiro, Abercrombie’s deputy chief of staff.

“I’m not sure why there’s a misunderstanding,” Oshiro said. “The governor put $40 million in his budget submittal back in December, and he talked about it in the State of the State, so I’m not clear how they would believe this wasn’t an issue for this session.”

Ige said he and other senators were instrumental last year in approving legislation to preserve Turtle Bay, but they got the impression from the November report that the deal was a long way off.

“To say that it was in his budget was disingenuous,” Ige said. “It’s funny how some people want to paint me as the road block.”

The $40 million request was for the authorization of bonds, not for a handout from the state’s general fund, said a spokesman from the governor’s office. The state would pay debt service on the bonds, but it would not have to come up with $40 million right now. The debt payments would be about $3 million and could be raised by restructuring other state debts, Ige said.

House Speaker Joseph Souki said late Thursday that it would be unwise to rush a decision on such a substantial amount of money at the end of the legislative session.

“I believe this matter can be taken up next session after we have had a chance to discuss the details with the governor’s office and had the opportunity to vet the arrangement,” Souki said.

Beyond what’s in the main budget bill, there also are outstanding bills with money requests that are grinding through conference committees.