State lawmakers tackle massive budget deficit as session begins

Local News

HONOLULU (KHON2) — Opening day of Hawaii’s legislative session looked a lot different due to safety concerns in our nation’s capitol and across the country. Here’s a look at some of the priorities lawmakers try to tackle as they face a massive budget deficit.

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House and Senate leaders agree that raising taxes is not on the table, but also admit that they don’t have a lot of options. Instead, they will need to think out of the box to raise much needed revenues.

Lawmakers start the legislative session facing a budget deficit of $1.7 billion over the next two years. And while getting tourists back is still critical for the economy to rebound, Hawaii has to market itself to visitors who spend more.

“One of the things that we have found is pre-COVID, we had 10 million tourists. The number of tourists has exponentially grown over the years, but tourist spending has not grown,” said Hawaii State Representative Sylvia Luke.

Lawmakers will be looking into charging visitors to go to state parks and beaches and only allow limited access by having to make reservations online. It’s a strategy that Kauai is already using.

The Senate president says getting kids back to schools safely will be important also because it will allow more parents to go back to work. It will also kickstart food production because children will have to be fed in schools.

“Pre-pandemic they were consuming 100,000 meals a day and so there will be an integral part of filling the gap in for farmers,” said Senate President Ron Kouchi.

Lawmakers say state agencies will be restructured because the state can only afford to provide core services. The legislature is also counting on Gov. David Ige to come up with a clear plan during his state of the state speech on Monday.

“And not just stop gap patch and kicking the can down the road. We need a foundation that is going to last for a while,” added Kouchi.

All this during a session that will be done virtually. Lawmakers say it actually makes the process more accessible. People can testify from home.

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