Hawaii lawmakers advance $12B state budget


HONOLULU — Hawaii lawmakers advanced a $12 billion state budget out of committee on Friday after making tough choices about everything from capital-improvement projects to nonprofit grant requests.

The budget advanced by a conference committee of Senate and House lawmakers slashes $92 million from the fiscal 2014 budget and another $65 million from 2015.

The move was one of many maneuvers at the Hawaii Legislature on a day legislators tackled a mountain of difficult bills, creating an atmosphere ranging from humorous to chaotic.

Lawmakers also advanced a proposal to raise the minimum wage in Hawaii to $10.10 per hour over four years.

“It is imperative to provide our lowest paid workers with the economic stability and security they deserve,” said Gov. Neil Abercrombie in a statement. “Hawaii’s minimum wage earners have not had a raise from $7.25 an hour since 2007.”

All bills that require funding have to move out of committees on Friday or die. Many of the toughest decisions were saved until the bitter end.

In one hearing Friday morning, committee members laughed when a fire alarm interrupted a lawmaker’s speech on a bill.

Sen. Josh Green, D-Kona, said the fire alarm went off because his bill was just so hot. Everyone began filing out of the room. But it was deemed a false alarm, and they resumed their work. But the same thing happened hours later when the committee resumed again.

On the budget, lawmakers approved $10 million in grants to about 55 groups including the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra and Volcano Art Center, but the final list of groups that got lucky was far smaller than the 260 organizations that had applied for aid.

When the session began the state was expecting a surplus of $844 million. But revenue projections were dramatically reduced in March, leaving lawmakers with nearly $500 million less than what was initially projected for next year.

Committee meetings were expected to last into the evening until it all gets done.