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Budget boost for nonprofits, education and public health

Lawmakers put final touches on measures before Thursday vote

May 1, 2012
By TREENA SHAPIRO , The Associated Press

HONOLULU - After a weekend of budget negotiations, House and Senate committee members agreed on Monday to focus spending on public health and safety, social services and education.

In a flurry of last-minute activity, conference committees shored up the community safety net with grants to nonprofit groups, appropriations to public hospitals and investments in early education and charter schools.

A total of 47 bills made it out of committee just in time to have a final vote scheduled before the legislative session ends Thursday.

On Friday, the fate of the fiscal bills had been uncertain as an internal deadline passed with no resolution on the state's $11.2 billion budget. However, a deadline extension allowed the committees to work two extra days and reach compromises on priority measures.

"I think all members of the House and Senate can be proud of the choices we've made - the hard choices we've made - and how we spent their budget," House Finance Chairman Marcus Oshiro said after the final bill made it out of committee.

His Senate counterpart, Ways and Means Chairman David Ige, also said that they made agreements in the most important areas.

"Obviously, there are specific interests or specific bills that have winners and losers, but I think overall, we manage the resources of our community quite well, and we make the strategic investments that we feel are a priority," said Ige, D-Aiea-Pearl City.

The last-minute bills included an appropriation for Wahiawa General Hospital, which has seen a dramatic increase in emergency room patients since Hawaii Medical Center West closed at the end of 2011 due to bankruptcy.

They also included roughly $14 million in grants-in-aid for numerous community nonprofits. "After many years where we've been constrained with supporting our nonprofits, I think we made a commitment to be smart about what we are doing but really making an investment," Ige said.

Compromises meant some disappointment on both sides.

In the end, the House failed to persuade the Senate to put money toward unfunded public employee retirement liabilities.

The Senate, meanwhile, had to walk away with its flagship construction bill still on the table.

The Senate's proposed "Invest in Hawaii Act" would have put $500 million toward repair and maintenance projects at public facilities - both to get necessary work completed and to create jobs.

The budget included nearly $430 million in capital improvement projects, but without the economic stimulus proposals the Senate had put forward in a separate - now failed - measure.

Oshiro, D-Wahiawa, explained the House's reasoning: "There's more than enough CIP right now, on the books, to get most of your construction firms up and running and get work out to those people who are currently on the bench," he said.

The Senate's construction bill was one of several controversial measures that would have expedited the permitting process by exempting certain projects from environmental review.

None of those advanced out of conference committees.

Lawmakers will be voting on two measures to attract aerospace high technology companies to Hawaii for research and development, along with tourism. However, measures to use tax incentives to attract more film and digital media production to Hawaii stalled.

"The tax credit fell apart," said a disappointed Ige. "We'll keep working at it. We've been working at this area a long time. It brings the kind of jobs that we want, that our children want, and we really do believe the activity ends up being a net gain for our economy."



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