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State lawmakers shore up budget, recess session

Lawmakers recessed their emergency session Thursday after nearly two weeks of hunting for funds to cover an expected $1 billion shortfall and ensuring federal monies were sent to the counties.

The state Legislature, which went into recess March 17 after one lawmaker tested positive for COVID-19, reconvened May 11 to address an expected $1 billion decrease in state tax collections due to the pandemic.

“We do intend to come back into session in mid-June, probably for another short period, to take a look at a limited number of bills,” said Central Maui Sen. Gil Keith-Agaran, vice-chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. “Most of them will not have any budget implications. At that point hopefully we’ll also have some clarity from the federal government on whether we have additional flexibility or additional funding support from them.”

Senate Majority Leader J. Kalani English, who represents East Maui, Molokai, Lanai and Kahoolawe, said during a news conference with Keith-Agaran and Senate President Ron Kouchi that the Legislature passed a number of funding bills for capital improvement projects, the Judiciary and government operations.

He also noted that they passed a number of resolutions, including one that granted subpoena powers to the COVID-19 committee, allowing them to obtain documents and information “in a timely manner.”

“This particular very quick session was to ensure that there were budgets and that federal monies were allocated,” English explained.

Lawmakers emphasized during the session that they were looking for solutions that would avoid the need for furloughs or cuts to pay and social services. They were able to locate $1 billion in savings by cutting vacant positions and pinpointing unused funds.

Bills passed include:

• Senate Bill 75, which allocates $562.5 million in federal CARES Act funds to the counties, including $66.6 million to Maui County. It also provides money to state agencies for COVID-19 response and transfers the remaining $635 million to the state’s “rainy day” fund, according to a Legislature news release.

• Senate Bill 3139, which shores up the rainy day fund with cash from various sources to be allocated as necessary for critical programs in the coming months. It includes $432 million in budget cuts to the executive and judicial branches.

• House Bill 117, which defers all salary increases for members of the Legislature, the governor, lieutenant governor, justices and judges of all state courts, administrative director of the state or an equivalent position and department heads and deputies.

• House Bill 2200, which cuts about $357 million in either unspent funds or funding for positions that have not been filled by state agencies.

• House Bill 1631, which allows Gov. David Ige to tap into $2.1 billion worth of federal loans to have cash on hand in case of a further budget crisis.

• House Bill 2725, which shells out more than $5.1 billion for capital improvement projects statewide and focuses on “shovel-ready” construction projects to help kickstart the economy.

• Senate Bill 3080, which cuts about $24 million in either unspent funds or funding for positions that have not been filled. It also removes all vacant positions except judge positions and requires the Judiciary to submit a weekly report on inmates who are being released to limit exposure to COVID-19.

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

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