By NANCY COOK LAUER
Stephens Media Hawaii
A new pharmacy school building for the University of Hawaii at Hilo, a potable water well for the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority and several other Big Island projects are included in the supplemental budget released Monday by Gov. Neil Abercrombie.
Abercrombie’s proposed operating budget asks for $11.8 billion for 2014 and $12.3 billion for 2015, a 2.37 percent increase. It socks away $100 million to a budget reserve fund and a hurricane relief fund during the fiscal year beginning July 1, raising Hawaii’s total reserves to more than $370 million, more than 5 percent of the state’s general fund revenues next fiscal year.
The goal is to build the reserves to 10 percent of general funds, following this year’s unprecedented $844 million surplus.
At the same time, the governor wants to float more bonds to pay for capital improvement projects. The budget includes $351.7 million in fiscal year 2015, a 90.8 percent increase.
The operating budget includes $283 million in new spending, including $183 million in new spending from the general fund.
Senate Ways and Means Chairman David Ige, who’s challenging Abercrombie’s re-election bid in next year’s Democratic primary, told Stephens Media Hawaii that the Senate and House money committees are getting an early start to the budget evaluations. The combined committees plan to meet at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday and again at 9 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Thursday, to look at the state’s financial picture and proposed budget. The regular legislative session starts Jan. 15.
“We’re concerned with the spending,” Ige said. “We’re spending more than we’re getting in revenues. We’re concerned about that.”
UH-Hilo Director of University Relations Jerry Chang was pleased to see the College of Pharmacy building back in the governor’s budget, and added university officials will be lobbying the Legislature to try to ensure it stays there this year.
He said college accreditors will be visiting campus at the end of the legislative session and if there’s no funding for the building, the college will be put on probation.
Chang said the university has responded to the Legislature’s concerns, and he hopes this year the budget will include the project. The university downsized the building from a proposed 80,000 square feet to 40,000 and reduced the price from $38 million to $32 million, he said.
“We heard what the Legislature has said,” Chang said. “They wanted it downsized and not look as grand as it initially looked.”
In addition to a share in various statewide education, airports, bridges and other projects, specific Big Island projects include:
l $33,000,000 ($28,000,000 in general obligation bond fund, $5,000,000 in revenue bonds from tuition) for the College of Pharmacy, New Instructional Facility project at the University of Hawaii at Hilo.
l $3,635,000 for the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority potable water well.
l Increase in the expenditure ceiling by $2,000,000 in special funds and $1,500,000 in revolving funds for the University of Hawaii at Hilo.
l $3,500,000 for the Waimea Homestead Community Agricultural Park.
l $3,500,000 for Puuwaawaa Structure Improvements and Dam Compliance.
l $2.7 million for Youth Challenge Academy Upgrade and Improvements at Keaukaha Military Reservation, Hawaii.
l $300,000 to increase the service hours for libraries in Hawaii, Maui and Kauai counties.
Sen. Gilbert Kahele, a Hilo Democrat who’s on the Ways and Means Committee, said the state needs to make up for some of the belt-tightening during the lean years.
He’s particularly concerned about battling invasive species such as the little red fire ant. The governor’s budget includes $1 million in new spending to combat invasive species. Kahele also wants to ensure there’s money for rural hospitals, early education and environmental protection.
“Everybody’s taken a hit during the past few years,” Kahele said. “We want to make sure the money is well-spent.”
Abercrombie released the budget at a news conference that, because of technical difficulties, could not be live-streamed as planned. The budget is available at budget.hawaii.gov/budget.
“The supplemental budget and plan continue responsible management of state fiscal affairs in order to build upon the $1.1 billion turnaround our state has achieved,” Abercrombie said in a statement.
Email Nancy Cook Lauer at firstname.lastname@example.org.