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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 1:20 p.m., Wednesday, May 02, 2001

Lawmakers pass $7.1 billion budget over GOP protest

By Kevin Dayton
Advertiser Capitol Bureau

Lawmakers gave final approval to a two-year $7.1 billion general treasury budget yesterday over the objections of Republicans, who said the state is spending too much. The budget increases general treasury spending by about 12 percent next year, and by another 4.5 percent the following year.

When money from federal sources, special funds and other sources is figured in, the budget works out to about $14 billion over two years. It adds about 1,100 new government jobs over the next two years.

Rep. Mark Moses, R-42nd (Kapolei-'Ewa Village-Village Park), worried the state will have to pay wages, retirement and health costs of those new public workers in the decades ahead.

"We're going to pay for this for a very, very long time to come, and we keep growing, and keep growing," said Moses.

House Finance Chairman Dwight Takamine said lawmakers had reason to be proud of the budget, which sets aside money for the public worker raises without increasing taxes.

Lawmakers seriously considered imposing a new tax on tour wholesalers, and the Senate voted to cancel tax cuts that were approved in 1998, but neither of those proposals had enough votes to pass in the House.

Takamine, D-1st (Hamakua-N. Kohala), said the budget maintains healthy cash reserves, and reflects lawmakers "cautious optimism" about the economy.

He acknowledged the budget is larger than the last one, but said that is mostly because "non-discretionary" costs have been growing, such as payments on the state debt and the cost of public worker retirement and health benefits.

Takamine also pointed to federal court consent decrees that require the state to pay more money for services for special education children with mental disabilities, and for community based mental health services for adults.

Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Brian Taniguchi, D-11th (McCully, Mo'ili'ili, Manoa) said the Legislature did not grant everything the Department of Health requested for student mental health services because it could not be justified.

However, Taniguchi said the budget has "embraced the public demand to fix our schools.

"With this budget, coupled with other important measures, I believe that this Legislature will be able to confidently say that we have provided much needed resources to our public schools from top to bottom," he said.

But Senate Minority Floor Leader Fred Hemmings, R-25th (Kailua, Waimanalo), called for the need to restructure government and the education system.

"This really doesn't change the structure of education," he said. "It just simply says we'll pay the bills and hope that this problem will get better."

House Minority Leader Galen Fox said lawmakers seem to think that since state tax collections have increased, the state should rush to spend the money. But Fox warned there are alarming signs in the economies of California and Japan.

"I don't see a bright future that we can base high spending on, Mr. Speaker," said Fox, R-21st (Waikiki-Ala Wai). He argued the state should be cutting the size of government by eliminating positions as state workers quit or retire.