Mar 30 – State agencies were in turmoil on Monday as they struggled to resume funding for hundreds of government positions and hold tens of millions of dollars in specialty funds that are normally outside the legislative process.
When Hawaii’s House of Representatives passed its version last week, it filled a massive budget gap by pocketing federal economic funds. However, that was not enough to restore all of the cut cuts in Governor David Ige’s proposed budget. The leaders eliminated 800 government positions that were classified as vacant and raised an additional $ 76 million in available funding. Around $ 150 million was raised from special funds with unspent funds, including $ 50 million for tobacco prevention.
The additional $ 226 million in government funding and $ 1.6 billion in federal aid helped leaders cut proposed cuts to a long list of government services and programs like Hawaii’s Sex Abuse Treatment Center, HIV Services , reproductive health care, tuberculosis prevention and the protection of sea urchins.
But the Senate Means and Ways Committee heard Monday why these budget maneuvers would adversely affect programs across the state government and fill dozens of positions that are currently filled.
“When we saw the changes, we felt like the sky was falling,” Daintry Bartoldus, executive administrator of the State Council on Developmental Disorders, told lawmakers during the Senate hearing. You and other disability advocates fear that the budget will limit the number of caseworkers deployed to assist residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Attorney General Clare Connors said 41 posts to be eliminated within her department would jeopardize her office’s ability to “perform its legal functions” and draw federal funds.
The proposed state budget would also cut 145 jobs in the State Department of Human Services, including 47 in the department that provides food, shelter and child support to needy residents.
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An additional 136 positions within the Department of Education totaling $ 8.6 million, including special education, administrative support and building maintenance positions, would also be cut.
The governor’s office said his eight political officer positions would be eliminated, all but one vacant.
These are just a few of the proposed position cuts. Legislators also seek to address a wide range of government functions and programs, such as: B. Driver training, energy security, community health centers, land protection and milk regulation.
The most controversial reduction was the Tobacco Prevention and Control Trust Fund. Legislators are seeking to completely cancel the fund and reallocate its $ 50 million balance to general fund programs. The most recent hearing on the proposal included 167 pages of testimony from health and tobacco prevention organizations, almost all of whom were against, with the exception of the Hawaii Smokers Alliance, which argued the fund was a “black hole” with little accountability.
The Ministry of Health said the proposal would destroy government tobacco prevention and smoking cessation programs that are funded from profits made by tobacco companies.
Legislators say they don’t want to phase out tobacco prevention programs. They would continue to fund these programs through a general allocation of $ 5.7 million but only want the remainder of the Fund’s unallocated resources.
“I think the biggest problem is that no one could justify why this fund is $ 50 million in balance,” said Sylvia Luke, chairwoman of home finance. “That should worry every taxpayer.”
Luke said the house is compiling its list of government agency vacancies. If there are currently vacancies to be eliminated, lawmakers will work to restore them. However, she also raised concerns that government agencies are using funds allocated to certain positions to cover the salaries of other workers, creating confusion and obfuscation in the budget process.
The House has reserved hundreds of vacancies for disposal over the past few years, forcing departments to explain why they need them. Luke said this year is a good time to start unlocking those funds as the government is currently on a hiring freeze.
Iges office says there is currently no plan to lift this hiring freeze, although departments can request a waiver if they need to fill what they consider to be a critical position.
The budget will continue to be discussed in the Senate before both chambers begin final negotiations.
Senate chairman Donovan Dela Cruz said he would likely support many of the House cuts, including the tobacco fund, to help maintain a balanced budget. “To close the budget, we’re definitely going to need that $ 50 million,” he said of the tobacco money.
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