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Gov. Ige uses line-item veto on virus relief bill

HONOLULU — Gov. David Ige said Thursday he would exercise line-item vetoes on a bill appropriating federal coronavirus relief funds.

The governor’s move eliminates $230 million set aside for a $100 additional weekly payment to unemployed individuals. This payment was to have partially offset the loss of $600 in additional weekly federal unemployment payments expiring this week. Ige said he vetoed the spending to give the state flexibility while Congress determines whether to extend the $600 payment.

The governor said at a news conference that he would go ahead and implement the $100 weekly payment if Congress doesn’t create an additional federal payment before it breaks for an August recess.

The governor reduced spending on other items, including cutting to $50 million the $100 million lawmakers set aside for housing and rental assistance. Ige said his discussions with the Housing Finance Development Corp. indicated $50 million would be sufficient to get the assistance program started.

He also decreased from $100 million to $61 million an appropriation for the purchase and distribution of personal protective equipment to hospitals, child care facilities, elderly care facilities, nonprofits and schools. Ige said that the measure does not include the purchase and distribution of sanitation and disinfectant supplies. The Department of Defense believes that $61 million is sufficient for PPE with the balance to be spent on sanitation supplies.

Other line-item vetoes:

• Halved a $2 million appropriation for a public-private partnership to provide support to public high school seniors who were adversely affected by school closures in the final semester of last school year. Ige said that $1 million is sufficient to begin establishing the programs; additional funds may be alloted as programs show success.

• Trimmed to $10 million — from $15 million — support for emerging industries to create a supply chain for cleaning supplies and PPE. The Hawaii Technology Development Corp. believes $10 million is sufficient to provide startup funding to businesses. The $5 million cut may become available later.

• Alloted $10 million for retraining and workforce development programs, down from the original $36 million appropriated. The Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism believes $10 million is sufficient to start the programs; more money could be available later, Ige said.

• Cut to $70 million — from $90 million — funds for airport screening and health security plans. The state Department of Transportation believes that the lower amount is sufficient for equipment and services to test, verify and monitor travelers and other health security initiatives, Ige said.

The governor said he wants to make sure that the state is able to spend all of the money it received from the federal government by the end of December as the federal coronavirus relief legislation requires.

“We will need maximum flexibility to use the funds where they are needed most,” he said. “It will not serve our community if funds are designated for a specific purpose by the budget bill, and the funds are not used because they were not necessary or they were duplicated by potential federal support.

“These are unprecedented times when we are facing enormous budget challenges as a result of COVID-19. Difficult decisions will have to be made.”

House Speaker Scott Saiki said in a statement that he was disappointed with the governor’s decision to “veto and reduce so many important items.”

“The current federal plus up of $600 per week will expire on July 31. Unemployed residents cannot wait for Congress to act, if it acts at all,” Saiki said.

Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, the chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said he’s glad the governor decided only to use his line-item veto instead of rejecting the entire bill.

What is critical, Dela Cruz said, was that the state gets aid to those who need it quickly.

“The more important concern is making sure that the agencies can get the money out. Because people need rental assistance right away,” Dela Cruz said. “We’ve got to get the economy moving with certain programs right away.”

He said the state Legislature wrote the coronavirus relief funding bill in such a way to give the governor the flexibility to move money around to different departments. For example, there might be some agencies with needs that weren’t apparent when lawmakers passed the bill in late June.

“The situation is evolving by the day,” he said.

* The Maui News contributed to this story.

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