HONOLULU - As Hawaii lawmakers closed out the 2012 legislative session, some remarked that it was the first time in years they hadn't had to contend with a budget deficit in excess of $1 billion.
Both the House and the Senate approved an $11.2 billion state budget Thursday morning. The total is about $1.4 million more than Gov. Neil Abercrombie had requested.
"Nevertheless, challenges remained," Senate Ways and Means Chairman David Ige told his colleagues, referring to a downgraded economic forecast from the Council on Revenues in January.
Ige, D-Aiea-Pearl City, said lawmakers couldn't fund every worthy project they wanted to, but they were able to shore up the state's safety net.
Funding was targeted to child welfare, public assistance for low-income families, emergency services in Leeward Oahu, public schools and core services.
The budget also includes a $25 million investment in technology infrastructure to help streamline and modernize government services.
House Finance Chairman Marcus Oshiro said the budget targets programs that can ensure that needs are met, particularly in human service, education and agriculture.
"Those are the basics," said Oshiro, D-Wahiawa.
He explained that although the state's economy is recovering, the Legislature didn't decide to automatically restore funding to programs that had been cut in recent years. "To do so means we did not learn a lesson from the recession," he said.
Abercrombie issued a news release congratulating lawmakers after the House and the Senate adjourned.
"From the start of session to the end, there was a commitment by the Legislature to work collaboratively towards creating policies for the benefit of the state of Hawaii," he said.
Lawmakers made public education a top priority - including early learning initiatives, charter schools and adult education programs. Lawmakers also increased weighted student formula funding with the intent of putting more dollars directly into schools and classrooms.
Ways and Means Vice Chairwoman Michelle Kidani, who was in charge of the capital improvement budget, explained that it was focused on projects that improve existing infrastructure.
"I'm confident that we're creating jobs and stimulating our economy," said Rep. Kyle Yamashita, who handled the CIP budget in the House.
He said $250 million in bond-financed projects would provide repair and maintenance to public school and University of Hawaii facilities. At the same time, it should create jobs for underworked and unemployed construction workers, said Yamashita, D-Pukalani-Ulupalakua.
Sen. Sam Slom, the chamber's lone Republican, cast the only dissenting vote. "There is no tax reduction and there are additional fees in this budget and other bills as well," he said.