Honolulu mayor-elect Blangiardi prepares to take on mounting budget woes

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HONOLULU (KHON2) — Conditions have gone from bad to worse for Honolulu’s projected budget shortfall, rail project, and COVID outlook.

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But the man recently elected to take the helm as mayor in January says he’s ready to take on the challenges. Mayor-Elect Rick Blangiardi spoke one on one with KHON2’s Gina Mangieri.

KHON2 asked Bangiardi about the seemingly insurmountable big-ticket problems and the financial austerity he says is in store.

The changes just a few weeks can bring: In the time since Blangiardi won the mayor’s race Nov. 3, rail’s budget gap grew at least $1 billion, and no one yet knew the upcoming city budget has at least $400 million hole.

“Do you still want this job?” KHON2 asked. “And how are you going to get over those huge hurdles?”

“That’s a great question, Gina,” Blangiardi said. “Yes, I very much want the job. That said, the hill keeps getting higher. So the combination of losing not only P3 (the rail public private partnership), but the jeopardy that we’re in with the federal government from the FTA of the $250 million (expiring at year end), the lack of GET (general excise tax collections), all of these things have compound effects, not the least of which is the shortfall in the budget itself.”

Blangiardi met Nov. 23 for the first time with the Caldwell administration’s fiscal department, which will be well into the first draft of next year’s budget when Blangiardi is inaugurated.

“We’ll have about a month to try to see what we can possibly do to adjust to come up with a budget that we feel we can live with for 2022,” Blangiardi said.

KHON2 asked: “Will it be a year or more of austerity of some kind do you think? Because there are a lot of landmines in there, chief among them the steeply escalating debt service cost which is escalating more quickly than just about any other line on a budget, and it gets worse with rail.”

“Gina, you just used the right word. It is about austerity,” Blangiardi said. “I said throughout the campaign, we have to belt tighten. I know that we get our revenue, as we all know, from property taxes. We’ve made a promise we will not raise property taxes. We’re going to have to learn to live within our means. You’ve got your first responders, your police and your fire departments are your biggest payrolls, but they’re really important to our public safety. This is going to be a real, real challenge here given this, given the numbers. We’re not trying to move around thousands, We’re moving around millions, in fact, hundreds of millions.”

All this while COVID rates are on the upswing again and the county is stuck in Tier 2.

KHON2 pointed out: “For some businesses and people, they’re okay, they’re already open, or they’re at least a little bit open. Others, like bars, like kids playing sports, they really don’t have an end in sight on this thing, at least not in the near future.”

“I don’t think we can get to Tier 4 anytime soon,” Blangiardi said. “I’ve talked to doctors about this, I don’t have an official briefing by the medical team advising the mayor right now. But bottom line is, I believe on Maui and on the Big Island of Hawaii, the sports kids are playing local sports over there. In fact, they’re inviting Oahu  new teams. In fact, all the bars are open on Kauai, in Maui, and on the Big Island. So many businesses have been declared nonessential have been really suffering. I think there’s room for movement there, like there’s room for movement on kids playing sports as well.”

In continuing coverage this week, the mayor-elect weighs in on other day-to-day obligations he’ll have as mayor to ensure a safe, clean and healthy city, how accountability and transparency will be handled under a Blangiardi administration, and his goals for Year One.

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