Governor gets much
By ANITA HOFSCHNEIDER
HONOLULU — The 2013 Hawaii legislative session was a mixed bag for Gov. Neil Abercrombie.
Back in January, the Democratic governor urged lawmakers to raise the minimum wage, create a new preschool program and allow the state to develop unused school lands.
With the conclusion of the Legislature this week, many of Abercrombie’s proposals found success in the House and Senate, both of which are overwhelmingly Democratic. But others stumbled as a result of political disagreement or funding constraints.
Abercrombie said he appreciates that the Legislature treated several of his initiatives respectfully and thoroughly.
“There were a lot of tough issues, hard choices to face, tough decisions to make,” he said on Friday. “That is the legislative process. It’s an unfolding of opinion and conversation and political dynamics, and I think it was terrific how it worked out.”
State Finance Director Kalbert Young, who was at the state Capitol often throughout the session advocating for Abercrombie’s bills, said there was more collaboration between the governor and legislators compared to previous years.
“I would give it somewhere between a B and a B+,” he said.
Young said the vast majority of Abercrombie’s requests were funded in some way, but the Legislature often provided less money than Abercrombie wanted. That makes it harder to achieve the original visions of the proposals, he said.
Several of Abercrombie’s requests were met completely. The Legislature agreed to reopen the Kulani Correctional Facility and start a new loan program to help people afford solar panels and other green energy equipment. Lawmakers advanced a constitutional amendment to let the state fund preschool and even exceeded Abercrombie’s $200 million request for managing the rising cost of employee health benefits.
But many of Abercrombie’s initiatives received significantly less money than he had hoped, as the Legislature cut the governor’s budget proposal by more than $260 million. Other bills, particularly those regarding land development, fell flat or emerged with significant restrictions.
Lawmakers were skeptical about Abercrombie’s plan for early childhood education, deciding to set aside funding to serve just 900 kids rather than the thousands under the governor’s original proposal.
“It’s a far cry from what the governor envisioned,” Young said of the resulting program. He said the lesser funding means it will take longer for the state to reach the goal of providing preschool to all children.
Young also said that while lawmakers dedicated millions to update the state’s information technology infrastructure, they funded less than the initial budget, forcing officials to cut down on their objectives.
Legislators additionally took a cautious approach to Abercrombie’s HI Growth Initiative, a plan to provide resources to Hawaii’s entrepreneurs.
The Legislature agreed to spend just $6 million, rather than $20 million, on the proposal.
Abercrombie’s efforts to raise the minimum wage and reform solar tax credits also tripped up in the final hour of bill negotiations, despite gaining momentum throughout the session.
Early in the session, legislators similarly rejected Abercrombie’s proposal for a new agency to develop state land in harbors and parks. They also imposed severe limits on Abercrombie’s proposal to develop school lands, approving a pilot project limited to three sites.
Other failed bills would have imposed a 10-cent fee on single-use checkout bags in stores and increased the conveyance tax on high-end real estate transactions.
Now after months of lobbying at the Legislature, the ball is finally in Abercrombie’s court. The governor said he is currently reviewing all the bills to decide which he will sign into law.
Young said that despite some disappointments this session, the state is moving in the right direction.
“You can’t always get everything you ask for, but we are moving ahead,” he said. “It just may take longer to get there.”
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