Patience needed in state budget struggle
It's a close call to say who has inherited the toughest job in the new Lingle administration: Chiyome Leinaala Fukino, the new director of the enormous Department of Health, or Georgina Kawamura, the new budget director.
For the moment, we'll give the nod to Kawamura.
Kawamura has lots of budget experience from her years at Maui county. She'll need every ounce of it as she takes the reins of the state's $3.5 billion general fund budget.
In essence, Kawamura and her staff are in a squeeze. On one side is a budget already stripped of all the easy cuts and trims, the low-hanging fruit if you will.
And the harsh fact is that the areas where any administration has budget flexibility are limited. The bulk of the budget is made up of fixed costs, salaries, entitlements, federal mandates and the like.
Also on this side of the squeeze is the fact that the state's economy, while steadying, is not yet in any kind of a strong growth mode. That means taxes won't be pouring in.
On the other side of the squeeze are the many promises made by Gov. Linda Lingle during the campaign. Among them: That she won't use some $184 million out of the Hurricane Fund as proposed by Cayetano; that she would re-create a food tax credit for residents; cut or reduce the tax on medical services and not lay off any civil service employees a so-called "warm body policy."
And in the middle sits Kawamura, facing a deficit that could (if you discount the Hurricane Fund) be as high as $500 million.
Realistically, the best anyone can hope for is progress toward meeting this nearly impossible goal. A budget plan this ambitious, this sweeping, will not be accomplished in one year.
Legislators (and the public) will have to be patient with Lingle and her administration as she sets out on this difficult mission.