HONOLULU — State senators have passed an $11 billion budget draft they believe will reinforce the state’s safety net, improve information technology services and create new jobs.
The Senate’s version of House Bill 2012, which now heads to conference committee, reflects both legislative and administration priorities, said Sen. David Ige, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.
This year is the first since 2009 that the state is not facing a severe revenue shortfall.
“With any luck, we’ve left this period in our state’s history behind, where we will be facing billion dollar deficits,” said Ige, D-Aiea, Pearl City. “This year we are afforded the opportunity to reinforce the safety nets and strengthen core government services that have been diminished over the years.”
The budget was one of hundreds of bills passed by the House and Senate in advance of Thursday’s second crossover deadline. Another was House Bill 2145, which invests $500 million in state facilities repair and maintenance. That measure focuses on creating jobs by funding public works projects that are ready for construction.
“We know that now is the time to invest in our state’s infrastructure, while costs for materials and labor are still low and the need for job creation has never been greater,” said Sen. Michelle Kidani, D-Mililani.
The Senate’s capital improvement proposals include completing construction at Ewa Makai Middle School to alleviate public school congestion in West Oahu. It also provides funding for a new high school in Kihei, Maui.
Senators also voted in favor of construction projects across the 10-campus University of Hawaii system. Highlights include college of pharmacy at UH-Hilo, a culinary institute at Kapiolani Community College, an advanced technology and science center at Honolulu Community College, and a dedicated facility for the Academy of Creative Media.
Sen. Sam Slom, the chamber’s lone minority member, spoke against the budget, while clarifying that he was in favor of some parts of it.
“This budget again is a reflection of the denial of many people that we still have very serious economic problems in our state. We have not turned the corner and we have not shown significant increases, particularly in the private sector,” said Slom, R-Diamond Head-Hawaii Kai.
As Slom noted, he voted in favor of the $500 million jobs creation measure — House Bill 2145. However, when it came to the budget, he said he could not support a bill that increases spending and adds more employees to the government payroll.
Sen. Ronald Kouchi, D-Kauai-Niihau, countered Slom’s remarks, pointing out that the state cut 2,000 positions during the recession and is still asking public workers to do more with less.
Crediting Ige, Kouchi said, “The chairman has given them hope that they will have the technology and support so that with less people they can do their job more efficiently.”