Gov.: Hawaii prepared
By ANITA HOFSCHNEIDER
HONOLULU — Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie said Friday his budget planners have penciled in $25 million for a contingency fund to help state programs that are expected to lose millions of dollars in federal funding.
The plan would need support from the Legislature, which is expected to vote on Abercrombie’s two-year budget proposal this session.
Shortly after Abercrombie spoke, President Barack Obama signed an order to cut $85 billion in federal spending, a plan he opposed but failed to prevent amid congressional gridlock.
Abercrombie was optimistic about the state’s readiness to absorb the impact of the cuts.
“What we are asking people to do is to take a deep breath and understand that we are on this on a daily basis,” Abercrombie said. He said there will be adverse effects but the state has been preparing to manage them.
Finance Director Kalbert Young painted a much grimmer picture.
“Make no mistake, it is not presumed that every program that loses federal funds will be able to be accommodated to maintain their current operational level,” Young said.
Young said estimates show state programs will lose $25 million-$35 million for the next two years as a result of the cuts.
“Sequestration will likely impact everyday activities, whether it be going to the airport, law enforcement support, border protection, food security issues,” said Young, using the budgetary term politicians have used to refer to the large budget cuts. He said a ripple effect will lead back to taxpayers.
The governor announced a task force to analyze the impact of the cuts and said he has been working closely with Pacific Command on the issue.
White House estimates show Hawaii could lose millions in funding for the military, including more than $100 million in funding for the state’s Army bases.
Abercrombie said about 19,000 Department of Defense civilian workers will face furloughs between April and September, causing workers to lose about $138 million in wages.
U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, said dozens of workers at Schofield Barracks on Oahu have already been furloughed and 70 have lost their jobs to the impending cuts.
Hawaii could also lose about $4.7 million for schools, forcing the state to help 9,000 fewer students and lay off dozens of teachers.
Hawaii is also expected to lose significant funding for environmental protection, unemployment, law enforcement, public health and social programs. That could mean fewer vaccines for children, fewer services for victims of domestic violence and fewer meals for seniors.
President Barack Obama and Republicans agreed on the extreme cuts two years ago as a deadline to force them to come up with a budget compromise. But the president and Republicans have each refused to budge on whether to raise taxes.
The Senate voted Thursday on two partisan measures that sought to end the impasse. Both bills predictably failed. Hawaii Democratic Sens. Mazie Hirono and Brian Schatz voted along party lines.
Members of Hawaii’s congressional delegation have called the cuts “devastating.” The president and congressional Republicans have blamed each other for their inability to come to an agreement.
Despite the congressional gridlock, Abercrombie said he is optimistic Congress will turn about to find an agreement to stop the full effects of the cuts from taking place.
“No one wants to be on the receiving end of the blame if stubborn clinging to this confrontational attitude continues in Washington,” Abercrombie said.
As reporters grilled him on how the cuts could affect state contracts, jobs and tourism, Abercrombie maintained his confidence that Hawaii has what it takes to handle the setback.
“Thank you,” he told reporters when the news conference ended. “Put on a happy face.”
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