Maui County state senators indicated that major projects were spared the ax in the state Senate's version of the budget approved Monday.
"Considering the downturn, there are still a lot of Maui projects in play as we go to conference," said Sen. Gil Keith-Agaran on Tuesday.
The state Senate and the House will enter conference committee negotiations to hammer out a final budget in the wake of a lowering of the revenue forecast by the Council on Revenues. This meant that there is less money to spend.
The Senate passed a $12 billion state budget for the 2015 fiscal year, envisioning less spending than what Gov. Neil Abercrombie originally proposed. Senators reduced the governor's proposed budget for 2013-14 by $46.1 million and reduced the budget for 2014-15 by $167.9 million. Most of the reductions were made to proposed capital improvement projects.
Keith-Agaran, a Democrat who represents Wailuku, Waihee and Kahului, said that the Senate eliminated most of the cash-funded state Department of Transportation capital improvement projects added to the budget this year by the governor.
Two major Maui highways projects, the $73 million Upcountry-Kihei highway and the $10 million expansion of Puunene Avenue to four lanes from Kamehameha Avenue to the Dairy Road intersection, are not in the Senate budget but are still alive in the $12.1 billion state House budget. Both projects include matching federal funds.
Keith-Agaran said he would not be averse to the Puunene Avenue project in particular getting through.
"I travel that area all the time," he said. "That's where it all backs up."
Keith-Agaran said that the Senate budget also includes $2 million for Cameron Center renovations, although the center requested $4 million, and funds for Maui Memorial Medical Center and Kula Hospital through the Hawaii Health Systems Corp.
Maui County lawmakers said before the session that the aim this year was to make sure major projects approved last year as part of the biennium budget were not cut. One of the largest projects, the $130 million Kihei high school, has not been touched, according to Sen. Roz Baker, who represents South and West Maui.
However, initial plans to build the school as a "design-build project" appeared to be off the table, she said. That public-private process was used for Kamalii Elementary School, which was built by Maui developer Everett Dowling in Kihei, where the project was put out to bid in its entirety. Baker told The Maui News a year ago that design-build by a private developer could save the state between $20 million and $25 million.
Baker said that the state Department of Education has decided against design-build and is building the school in phases. She said the DOE was worried about having fixed lease payments in its operating budget through design-build, which could not be trimmed if the Legislature cut the DOE budget.
"It would have been dandy to put everything in GO (general obligation) bonds and bid it out all one time, but it doesn't look like that is in the cards," she said Tuesday.
"The DOE doesn't know any way but the old way," she said. "It's unfortunate. . . . We'll keep goosing it along."
Baker said she did not have a problem with phasing in students by grade and did not expect incoming seniors to leave Maui High for the new school. Like King Kekaulike High School, the freshman class will have an opportunity to pick a mascot, fight song and establish a student council.
"From a practical standpoint for a high school, it makes sense," Baker said. "I haven't had anybody tell me that is an issue."
There is $30 million in "real money" appropriated and authorization for $100 million more, which will have to be turned into bonds, Baker said. She is not worried about the $100 million; "the Legislature has never said once we have a project started we are not going to finish it," she said.
Earlier reports have said that construction is expected to begin next summer with completion in fall 2017.
Included in the Senate budget is $500,000 for a traffic signal at Kulanihakoi Street and Piilani Highway, "a very dangerous intersection" at the new high school, she said.
There also is $400,000 for Kaanapali Beach sand renourishment in the Senate budget, she said, which will be matched by $400,000 in private funds.
Sen. J. Kalani English, a Democrat who represents East Maui, Upcountry, Molokai and Lanai, said Tuesday that the budget process remains "fluid" and that the goal of the Senate was to "get something to conference."
The Senate chose to trim $200 million in cash spending by the governor, given the reduction by the Council of Revenues.
"We've had to pull back," he said. "Hopefully, things will get a little better when we get to conference."
English and Keith-Agaran serve on the Ways and Means Committee and will be in conference committee as the final work on the budget is completed.
English added that "the House is very optimistic in what they funded," noting that the House budget of $12.1 billion is larger than the Senate's.
"I hope we can find something in the middle," English said.
The senator chose not to name specific projects in his district, not wanting to "raise hopes or expectations" because of the fluidity of the process. English added that over the years, he has been one of the most successful lawmakers in bringing home money for his district.
"I hope to continue that trend," he said noting a lot of projects already in the pipeline such as a new auditorium for King Kekaulike High School and improvements to airports in his district.
* The Associated Press contributed to this report. Lee Imada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.