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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Lingle budget focus criticized

By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Capitol Bureau

Democratic lawmakers are taking Gov. Linda Lingle to task on her supplemental budget request, questioning her commitment to education and treatment for drug addiction.

Majority Democrats say the request submitted this week also does not take into account the likelihood of raises for government workers in negotiation with the state.

The administration is proposing an $86.8 million increase, 2.3 percent, to the state's $3.9 billion general fund for 2005. The Lingle supplemental budget calls for nearly tripling the construction budget for fiscal year 2005, from $310 million to $849 million. Much of the capital improvement projects are in transportation improvements or repair and maintenance of facilities.

Senate Ways and Means Chairman Brian Taniguchi, D-10th (Manoa, McCully), said that while $90 million is included in that budget for repair and maintenance of school facilities, the general fund request for the Department of Education grows by only $3.7 million, when it sought substantially more.

"I think funding for DOE probably is going to be an issue," Taniguchi said.

House Majority Leader Scott Saiki, D-22nd (McCully, Pawa'a), agreed. "I think the House will look very seriously at increasing funding for the DOE," he said. "The fact of the matter is, schools need more resources."

State Budget Director Georgina Kawamura responded that her agency was able to free up millions of dollars in unnecessary spending that will go directly into educational services, along with the $3.7 million increase. Also, she said, the supplemental budget contains more than $19 million in new federal money.

House Minority Leader Galen Fox, R-23rd (Waikiki, Ala Moana, Kaka'ako), said changing the way schools are governed would be the best way to funnel more money into the classrooms.

Education is expected to be a key battleground when the Legislature opens next month. While many Democrats insist the school system is satisfactory but needs more money, Lingle has pushed for elected local school boards as the first step toward fundamental reform.

Democratic lawmakers also took the administration to task for failing to come up with more resources to tackle drug addiction, after a highly publicized round of community meetings and an "ice summit" in the fall.

Taniguchi pointed out that $430,000 earmarked for substance abuse treatment for O'ahu parolees also is to be used for sex offender treatment, transition skills and job development services.

But Linda Smith, Lingle's senior policy adviser, said the administration expected to be able to obtain more money for drug addiction programs through existing monies within various agencies, as well as through new federal sources.

Senate President Robert Bunda, D-22nd (N. Shore, Wahiawa), is skeptical. "I saw some things that I thought the administration had identified as important, like education and crime, but I didn't see in the budget any kind of programs or additional funding for education or drugs," he said.

Taniguchi also cited the likelihood the state will need to dole out millions more in raises. Four major unions representing the bulk of state workers are in collective bargaining talks with the state.

Taniguchi said his staff estimated that each 1 percent across-the-board pay increase would cost the state $15 million a year.

But Fox called Lingle's supplemental general fund request a reasonable one. "We're still in a bind on our revenues, and we have to continue to be conservative in how we spend money," he said. "At the same time, she's allocating funds for necessary expenditures."

Reach Gordon Y.K. Pang at gpang@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8070.