Legislature reconvening next week to figure out budget shortfall

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HONOLULU (KHON2) — The state legislature is estimating about a billion-dollar shortfall. To address the shortfall, the state senate and the house will be reconvening next week.

House Speaker Rep. Scott Saiki said right now they’re looking to save money where they can, but they are looking to avoid drastic budget cuts.

“One [way] is to basically take back unspent funds in the current state budget. Those are called lapses,” said Rep. Scott Saiki, house speaker.

He’s also proposing taking away unfilled state worker positions or vacant positions, which have funding tied to them.

Saiki said they are also looking into possibly using borrowed funds.

“…Authorize the governor to borrow funds through a number of programs, one is called… it’s a federal liquidity fund. It’s a program that enables states to borrow funds from the federal government,” said Saiki. “The second is a pension obligation bond authorization, which would allow the governor to float bonds that would be used to pay the state’s share of the pension. It’s pension obligation rather than paying cash for that we’ll use borrowed funds.”

Saiki said they’re still analyzing what the amount all these steps will amount to. He said he hopes it’s enough to avoid drastic budget cuts and furloughs, like Furlough Fridays, which were introduced in 2008, to balance the budget shortfall then.

“When this pandemic occurred, we said we wanted to avoid furloughs, especially the furloughs that occurred in the public schools,” said Saiki.

Corey Rosenlee, president of the Hawaii State Teacher’s Association, said any kind of budget cut to education would have major repercussions. He’s also worried about the effect it could have on the teaching profession as a whole.

“The concern is our new teachers will just choose not to go into teaching, and our mid-career teachers will move somewhere else,” said Rosenlee.

Rosenlee said teacher starting pay was going to rise above $50,000 for the first time next year. With a 20 percent budget cut, that would be cut down to $39,000 dollars.

 “We have a thousand teacher shortage right now, if we do nothing. If we cut our pay, it scares me to think about what a two thousand teacher shortage would mean in Hawaii,” said Rosenlee.

Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz said the senate is in agreement with the cuts from the house, and if it’s not enough, there are other considerations being made.

“We have already asked each department to look at 16 percent cuts, 25 percent cuts and 30 percent cuts at each of the departments across the board. So, we have that information available if that’s something we have to go to,” said Sen. Dela Cruz.

Dela Cruz said right now, none of the estimates from the departments include pay cuts, but on the chopping block are projects that have been approved but haven’t been funded.

The legislative session is set to start on Monday. Saiki said there must be an agreement from both the house and the senate before anything passes.

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