Honolulu faces nine-figure budget shortfall, City Councilmember suggests bonds

Coronavirus

The City and County of Honolulu announced Wednesday that it is expecting a budget shortfall of $130 million in 2021.

The losses come from tax revenue, but also from numerous city facilities that have been forced to close during the COVID-19 stay-at-home order.

The city is expecting losses of $17,767,853 from lost fuel taxes, motor vehicle weight taxes, and street parking meters alone. The city’s golf courses, Neal S. Blaisdell Center, and Honolulu Zoo have also erased $12,605,102.

Plans to make up this money are through cuts, which would mostly impact the Department of Transportation.

“They took the biggest hit,” Department of Budget and Fiscal Services Director Nelson Koyanagi said.

“We looked at rail operations, we reduced the rail operations budget by a little bit.”

The state has dealt with budget shortfalls before by furloughing employees. Mayor Kirk Caldwell says that would hurt the economy.

“We don’t have to do things like furlough our employees,” Mayor Caldwell said.

“With the money they make they go and spend it in our community and without them we’re taking a deeper dive.”

Some of the budget cuts are impacting city departments that need to fill vacant positions, a move the City Councilmember Kimberly Pine says would also hurt the economy.

“Instead of a worker collecting unemployment and not providing any services at all to the public we should be hiring those unemployed to keep the city running.”

The question arises in how the city will pay for keeping employees. Councilmember Pine wants the city to be creative and open to taking on debt.

“We have to ask the governor to waive the law that prevents us to taking out large bonds for cash and we haven’t done that before, but we are in an unprecedented time where I believe the budget shortfall to come is going to be bigger than we ever imagine.”

The Honolulu City Council will hold a Budget Special Committee Meeting on May 12th.

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