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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, May 23, 2003

Harris criticizes budget proposal

By Treena Shapiro
Advertiser Staff Writer

As the budget battle intensified at City Hall yesterday, Mayor Jeremy Harris accused Council Budget Chairwoman Ann Kobayashi of putting together a fraudulent budget that will lead to the layoff of 740 city employees.

Kobayashi denied the accusation that her proposal will leave the city with a $15 million deficit. "It doesn't leave it short," she said.

Since the mayor unveiled his budget proposal March 2, he and Kobayashi have complained about poor communication. Harris says the administration is not consulted before the council makes changes, while Kobayashi says the administration does not provide adequate information on which to base decisions.

After listening to more than nine hours of testimony yesterday, the Budget Committee is set to conclude its hearings today and make final changes to the administration's proposals for a $1.178 billion operating budget, $288 million construction budget, a $23 million property tax rate increase and $25 million increase in fees. The council will take a final vote June 4.

Harris and Kobayashi are at odds over the sale of the downtown municipal parking lot known as Block J. Plans to turn the lot into an affordable rental project fell apart in 2000, and the administration planned to sell it for $15 million. That anticipated revenue was counted in last year's budget.

However, the lot is still up for sale.

There is considerable argument as to if or how that anticipated revenue could be carried over or factored into the new budget.

Also in her latest draft of the budget, Kobayashi is counting on an additional $15 million to lapse or remain unspent when the fiscal year ends June 30.

Harris said that reasoning is unrealistic. Consequently, he says, the budget will be out of balance and the city will have to lay off approximately 740 workers to make up the deficit.

But this assumes that the mayor will not veto what he sees as a flawed budget and that the corporation counsel approves it as legal and balanced. If the council does not pass a balanced budget by June 15, the mayor's original proposal would go into effect, along with a $23 million property tax increase and $25 million increase in fees. The present budget fight stems from the council trying to avoid his proposed user fees.

Harris wants the council to balance the budget by accepting three of his fee proposals: charging commercial vehicles to enter Hanauma Bay, raising tipping fees for commercial refuse haulers and instituting his curbside recycling program with an optional $8 fee to maintain a second weekly trash collection.