The $90 million in funding sought for the long-promised Kona Judiciary Complex — previously deemed a high priority — has been slashed in half.
House Bill 197, which addresses Judiciary appropriations, at its introduction in the state House of Representatives included a request for $1 million for design work and another $89 million for construction in fiscal 2014-15.
When transmitted from the House Finance Committee to the Senate, the request had been removed completely, replaced instead by $2.7 million for projects on Oahu and Maui.
Amended by the state Senate’s judiciary committee on Tuesday, the bill now includes $45.5 million for the Big Island project, half of what is needed to bring the long-promised courthouse that would consolidate Kona’s three facilities into one building. The Senate bill also listed a second project, a new correctional facility, adjacent to the complex, but did not request a specific amount.
The Senate version of the appropriations bill next heads to the Ways and Means Committee for consideration. Eventually, the Senate and House will meet in conference to consider the requests and finalize a budget.
“It’s like having two tires on your car instead of four,” said West Hawaii Bar Association Vice President Robert Kim, who is handling legislative matters for the association while President John Borns is on vacation. “It’s half of what is needed.”
Kim expressed concern about the reduction in funding, saying the Kona area needs a real courthouse with adequate security and facilities. He also said that with sheriff’s deputies spread between three facilities instances of an escape are possible. An escape occured Friday when a woman left the Kona courthouse while she was supposed to be held on $50,000 bail.
“It shows the lack of security and the dire need for a courthouse,” Kim said. “The House took the courthouse out of the budget, deleted the Kona courthouse, but we are working on it in the Senate.”
According to Kim, Carol Kitaoka, a member of the West Hawaii Bar Association, lobbied the Senate along with Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald, who has said numerous times that the project is his No. 1 priority, to reinstate the funding. The association will continue to push for more funding.
State Sen. Josh Green said Saturday that the courthouse is one of his top three priorities for Kona. On Monday Green said he met with Recktenwald and Ways and Means Committee Chairman David Ige to ensure the committee understands the project is a priority for Green and Recktenwald.
“It remains a huge priority,” he said. “We really can’t go much longer.”
Green also said he has met with Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s chief of staff expressing that the project would create at least 225 jobs and is necessary because in some cases security has been breached at the Kona courthouses. Further, he intends to sit down and express the concerns directly to Abercrombie with the hope the governor will weigh in on the matter.
“I hope that we will be able to impress upon the legislators across the state that this is something West Hawaii has been waiting for for a long time,” he said. “And, with bond rates low it’s the best time to build it.”
He, along with Kona-area Reps. Denny Coffman and Nicole Lowen, vowed Saturday to keep pushing for funding.
“Every day I will badger the Ways and Means to let them know it matters in West Hawaii,” Green said.
The proposed Kona Judiciary Complex will comprise 140,000 square feet and accommodate seven full-time judges. Judiciary officials anticipate it will meet West Hawaii’s needs beyond 2030.
Officials in late December hoped to open the facility in spring 2019 with construction commencing as early as March 2016 if funding is obtained.