State lawmakers work to fix $413M shortfall

Coronavirus

State lawmakers are back in session Monday with a daunting task. They’re looking to fix a budget shortfall of more than $400 million.

The Council On Revenues released its forecast last month saying state revenues would drop $2.3 billion because of the coronavirus pandemic. State lawmakers have found some money to offset that. But clearly there’s a lot more work to be done.

Lawmakers say they’ve identified vacancies within the state government that will not be filled and also asked the different departments to cut back. Money from that, along with the rainy day fund, amounts to a billion dollars which will be transferred to the Department of Budget and Finance.

“From there, the governor can transfer portions of the billion dollars to the different departments as needs arise,” said Sen. Donova Dela Cruz, the chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Dela Cruz says that still puts the state $413 million short of its $8 billion budget. It’s an improvement from the $1.5 billion shortfall Gov. David Ige announced last month, in which he also proposed a 20% pay cut for state workers. Dela Cruz says the pay cut is still possible but legislators are looking for strategic cuts to avoid that.

“There’s a lot of services that the state provides that it would be very scary if we start to cut some of those because it’s gonna have other impacts that occur within the community,” said Dela Cruz.

He points out that the $413 million can go up and down as more needs and cuts are identified. He adds that the state can also borrow money from the federal government. But it’s not clear right now how much the state will be allowed to borrow.

There’s more of a push now than ever to create jobs that are not dependent on tourism. Dela Cruz says fresh ideas are needed.

“This is a time when we can reinvent government. We can look at possibly merging certain divisions or updating functions so that we can be more responsive to what the public needs are,” he said.

Lawmakers have less than three weeks to figure it out as the session ends July 10.

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