Lawmakers credit federal relief funds for savings session
Hawaiian lawmakers closed session 2021 on Thursday by thanking the federal government and the state’s Congressional delegation.
The legislature began the session in January wondering how to cover a budget hole caused by the pandemic. They ended the session by hanging their hats on the programs for which they used federal relief funds to pay for like additional allowances for teachers and a host of social services that could have been cut if federal funds had not been paid.
“It is truly extraordinary to see how the legislative session has unfolded differently as a result of the action of Congress,” Senate Majority Leader Jarrett Keohokalole said at a press conference . “We were able to re-establish really big and painful cuts in expected services.”
Senate Speaker Ron Kouchi thanked US Senators Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono as well as Congressmen Ed Case and Kai Kahele. He also praised the Senate Special Committee on COVID-19 which last year helped obtain information about the pandemic from the state and discovered an inadequate contact tracing program.
The Ways and Means Committee will visit each of the four counties to monitor programs funded by lawmakers, Kouchi said. He added that he would allow Sen. Sharon Moriwaki to form a special committee that will look at broadband issues in the state, and that senators will also focus on safely bringing more children back to the state. school in person.
Among their successes this year, Senators listed a proposal to allow the state to treat people with drug addiction issues at Leahi Hospital, a bill Governor David Ige signed earlier this year. year to delay unemployment insurance taxes, and a proposal to allow Honolulu to run its own emergency medical services.
House Speaker Scott Saiki outlined a list of the session’s accomplishments in a speech on Thursday, ranging from University of Hawaii scholarships for special education students and the creation of a new curriculum to forest stewardship, to providing more money for general support payments for people with disabilities.
He also highlighted changes in state law to reform the “predatory” payday lending industry and the decision by lawmakers to increase fees and taxes for tourists to “pay their fair share.” “.
“As you know, the past year and a half has been the most brutal in history for the Legislative Assembly, but I have never seen the House so focused and working so hard before,” Saiki told reporters. colleagues. “Everyone made their contribution. Everyone made a difference. Everyone represented their constituents admirably.
He added: “Don’t let anyone say – don’t let anyone say it – that this was a ‘do nothing’ legislature. Our accomplishments are important and they will help the people of our state. “
The invoices in Ige’s hands
Lawmakers considered over 3,000 bills this session and ultimately sent over 230 to the governor.
Ige made it clear in an interview on Thursday that he had a poor opinion of some of the Legislative Assembly’s supposed accomplishments, particularly the steps lawmakers have taken to reorganize parts of state government and cut funding for the ‘Hawaii Tourism Authority.
Ige said he was “really disappointed” that the Legislature chose to pass a bill to cut HTA’s funding from $ 79 million to $ 60 million next year, and to cut the budget. flow of hotel tax revenues to HTA.
HTA has developed destination management action plans to find ways to reduce the impact of mass tourism on local communities, and the budget cut imposed by the legislature will make it more difficult to execute these plans, a said Ige.
“How do you create programs if you have to come back for money every year?” Asked Ige. “This is something that is going to create a huge challenge.”
Ige also questioned the wisdom of the reorganization effort, including Bill 862, which would abolish the Office of Aerospace Development and transfer the Pacific International Space Center to the Department of Business’s exploration systems. , Economic Development and Tourism at the University of Hawaii Hilo.
Another bill would move the State Land Use Commission from DBEDT to the renamed Office of Planning and Sustainable Development, while another bill would rename the State Office of Land Control. environmental quality and would also move it to the Planning Bureau.
Ige said he had yet to see evidence that reshuffling agencies in state government would save money, and that it raised personnel issues and other complications. .
Normally, this kind of reorganization would involve a process that includes a benefit assessment and consultation with public workers’ unions, he said.
“It’s easy to move people around on paper or within budget, but it has a significant impact on employees,” he said. “We looked at them, and I’m not sure exactly what benefits they would gain from the reorganization.”
But overall, Ige said the session “touched on the important issues,” the most important being the new biennial state budget.
The federal government provided $ 600 million in support of the University of Hawaii’s Department of Education and System, in addition to $ 1.6 billion in direct aid to the state. That federal money has funded rent relief programs, funding for food security, child care and “everything we care about,” Ige said.
“The federal government has succeeded,” Ige said. “They’re really providing much-needed relief to the state budget in a way that’s useful this time around, and so it made a difference – it made a huge difference.”
The governor will have until June 22 to decide what to keep and what to oppose.