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Ige’s proposed budget contains funds for county

Millions set for school and hospital subsidies, harbor improvements

David Ige

Public school renovations, hospital subsidies and commercial harbor improvements are among the Maui County-related items in the proposed biennium budget released by Gov. David Ige on Monday.

Ige’s budget includes $31.1 billion in operations and $3.4 billion in capital improvement projects for fiscal years 2020-21. (Fiscal years run from July 1 to June 30).

Big budget items include public education, which was slated to receive more than $400 million in infrastructure improvements, and affordable housing, which would get $315 million over the next two years.

“This is actually probably the first budget I think that the current governor’s really putting his own stamp on things,” said Central Maui Sen. Gil Keith-Agaran, vice chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee. “Because in some ways his first four years, he was reacting, and he didn’t really show us exactly what his priorities were. I think a lot of the things he’s building on now really seem to be working off of things we did last session.”

Ige reflected his education priorities by setting aside more than $400 million in the capital budget for infrastructure improvements at public schools, which he said include “investments in equity, health and safety.” For example, the budget includes $38.2 million for girls athletics locker rooms in high schools statewide.

“This has been an inequity that has been highlighted in recent years, and we’re committed to making an investment so we can provide equal opportunity to athletics for all of our students,” Ige said.

Earlier this month, the ACLU of Hawaii filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court, alleging sexual discrimination against female student athletes at Campbell High School on Oahu. The lawsuit noted, among other inequities, that female athletes do not have a locker room while the boys do.

The Department of Education budget also includes $40 million for ongoing construction at Kihei high school and nearly $70 million for renovations and additions to existing Maui County schools, including $23.2 million for Maui High School, $12.5 million for Kalama Intermediate and $12.5 million for Waihee Elementary.

“Obviously for those of us in Central Maui, we know that both intermediate schools are over capacity, and the elementary schools are already at capacity or going to exceed it,” said Keith-Agaran, adding that both Maui Waena Intermediate and Iao Intermediate need renovations to allow for more classrooms.

Ige’s budget also includes $14.5 million for deferred maintenance at community colleges statewide, and $19 million to expand the Hawaii Promise Program to all four-year campuses within the University of Hawaii system. The program provides “last-dollar” scholarships to eligible students to cover unmet direct costs, such as tuition, fees, books and supplies. In June, Ige signed a bill appropriating $700,000 for the program at the community colleges.

Keith-Agaran, also a member of the Higher Education Committee, said he hoped to see more funding for the promise program at the community colleges because the four-year campuses tend to have more financial aid options, and many community college students work and study part time.

Ige also focused on housing, setting aside $315 million in capital improvement funds over the next two years. That includes $75 million for the Dwelling Unit Revolving Fund, $100 million for the Rental Housing Revolving Fund and $20 million for Department of Hawaiian Home Lands lot development projects statewide.

Ige said that since he’s been governor, the state has funded 21 affordable rental projects through the Rental Housing Revolving Fund, “which is the same number of projects funded through the two previous administrations,” Ige said.

The budget also includes $35 million for programs related to homelessness, such as the Housing First initiative, housing subsidies to help people on the edge of homelessness, and funding for permanent deputy sheriff positions for “security support in homeless operations.”

“We do know that many of those chronically homeless suffer from mental illness and substance abuse, and until we can attack those challenges for homeless individuals, they will continue to remain homeless,” Ige said. “That’s why this budget and our approach is focusing on developing housing that includes access to medical and social services.”

While Ige discussed deputy sheriffs, Keith-Agaran wondered what the governor planned to do about staffing at jails, particularly since the Maui Community Correctional Center “just lost a bunch of adult correction officers that’s going to impact the operations there.”

Budget items for MCCC include two permanent positions for the prison’s health care program, $6.3 million for new medium security housing and $500,000 for dorm renovations.

Other Maui County-related projects and funding in Ige’s budget include:

• $56.5 million for commercial harbor improvements.

• $20.5 million in fiscal 2020 and $17.3 million in fiscal 2021 for Maui Health System subsidies for Maui County’s public hospitals, including Maui Memorial Medical Center, and $6 million for facility improvements.

• $9.3 million in fiscal 2021 for Molokai irrigation system improvements.

• $2.1 million in fiscal 2020 for Kalaupapa settlement improvements.

Because monthly state revenues have been “erratic,” Ige said his administration used a lower forecast than projected by the state’s Council on Revenues — assuming 3.5 percent growth instead of the projected 5 percent.

“We believe that it’s prudent for us to be conservative to be sure we don’t appropriate funds that we don’t have,” Ige said.

Each percentage point is equivalent to about $50 million, Ige said, which means his budget is assuming about $150 million to $180 million less in revenues than projected in the current fiscal year.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.