By ANITA HOFSCHNEIDER
HONOLULU — Hawaii lawmakers in both the House and Senate have agreed on funding for the state’s unfunded liabilities, invasive species control and the charter schools commission, among others.
Members of both the House and Senate met Thursday in a conference committee to debate the state biennium budget, although conference committees aren’t scheduled to start until next week.
House Finance Committee Chairwoman Sylvia Luke says it is historic for lawmakers from both chambers to meet so early. She says lawmakers want to avoid last minute changes and have more time to take into account the impact of federal budget cuts.
Ways and Means Committee Chairman David Ige announced Thursday that both chambers have agreed to set aside $100 million for fiscal year 2014 and $117 million for fiscal year 2015 to draw down the state’s unfunded liabilities for state employee health benefits.
That exceeds Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s request for $100 million a year.
“We believe that the unfunded liabilities should be first and foremost,” Ige told reporters after the hearing.
Ige says the committee has decided to fully fund the charter school commission to make sure they have enough resources to hold charter schools accountable.
Lawmakers also decided to dedicate $700,000 for library books and $1.5 million for the Hawaii Invasive Species Council.
Additionally, they set aside money for state property insurance and the Hawaii Health Information Exchange.
Ige says that lawmakers in both chambers have already agreed to about two-thirds of the budget appropriations and are mulling the leftover items.
The mood in the first conference committee meeting was jovial as lawmakers didn’t delve into any highly debated topics.
The Democratic senators wore matching blue t-shirts with the words “SD1” indicating the Senate bill they support. Luke joked that the House members of the committee might have a dress code by the end of the session.
Whenever the hearing room door opened, the sounds of a rally for statewide preschool funding could be heard from three floors below. Abercrombie’s proposed preschool program is one of several contentious issues that the lawmakers are considering funding.
The committee plans to meet again Friday afternoon to announce more budget decisions. Ige declined to say which items are on the agenda.