Hawaii climate task force, new spending on health care vetoed
By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Government Writer
Gov. Linda Lingle vetoed several bills yesterday that she argued would widen the state's budget deficit, including bills to restore a free health care program for children, provide state money to hospitals to help cover health care for the poor, and create a climate change task force.
The governor said the state cannot afford the new spending, even if some of the proposals have merit, given the estimated $786 million deficit through June 2011.
"We cannot enact legislation using money we simply do not have," Lingle said in a statement. "Once we regain our financial footing, I am willing to work with the Legislature to fund projects that help the public, but such funding should be included as a part of the state's annual budget."
The state House and Senate plan to meet in veto override sessions Wednesday, the day the governor's veto deadline expires. Many of the bills vetoed yesterday are on the potential override lists. Two-thirds' votes in both chambers are required to override a veto.
In a separate development on the budget yesterday, staff of the state House Finance Committee said their estimate of the deficit is now roughly the same as Lingle's, ending a discrepancy that has existed for several weeks.
The different estimates, which turned out were largely based on terminology, were used by some of Lingle's critics to suggest that the governor was exaggerating the size of the deficit to win concessions from public-sector labor unions.
Mayor Mufi Hannemann on Thursday cited the different deficit estimates as an example of why all the parties need to meet together and negotiate.
Lingle's staff, meanwhile, continues to work on a list of state workers who could face layoffs if there is no agreement on furloughs and pay cuts to reduce labor costs. The governor had said she wanted to provide the list to unions by the end of the week.
Labor talks between the state and the unions are expected to resume Monday.
Lingle's vetoes yesterday included a bill to revive Keiki Care, a public-private partnership between the state and the Hawai'i Medical Service Association to provide free basic health care to children who fall in the gap between public and private health insurance plans. The Lingle administration canceled state funding for Keiki Care last year, alleging the program was attracting children whose parents had previously been paying for health care.
State lawmakers revised Keiki Care to require that children in the program receive free health care at federal qualified health centers.
State Rep. Ryan Yamane, D-37th (Waipahu, Mililani), the chairman of the House Health Committee, said the intent is to serve the gap children while also exposing their parents to health care available at federally qualified health centers.
Yamane said the bill's $400,000 price tag is an investment he hopes would encourage preventive care and reduce more costly emergency room visits.
"What I was trying to do was change the mindset to get people out of going just to the hospitals, which is the most expensive care and costs us all money," he said.
Lingle vetoed a bill that would provide $12.3 million in state matching funds to attract $15 million in federal money and help hospitals cover the costs of treating the poor and disabled.
The governor said the bill has merit and she appreciated lawmakers' attempt to maximize federal money, but said there are no state funds available.
"This is penny-wise and pound-foolish," state Rep. Marcus Oshiro, D-39th (Wahiawa), the chairman of the House Finance Committee, said of giving up federal money.
Lingle also vetoed a bill that would divert $100,000 from the tourism special fund to create a climate change task force. The governor said there is already wide-ranging research on climate change from international and national organizations, and noted that the state has a greenhouse gas emissions task force.
She also questioned taking money from the tourism special fund, which is used for tourism marketing and promotion, for task forces "that are designed to study issues but rarely produce tangible results."
Jeff Mikulina, executive director of the Blue Planet Foundation, said it is important to have a task force look directly at climate change, which, if it causes sea levels to rise, could have a significant impact on the Islands.
"We really need to separate these two even though they have the same root," he said of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. "I think one is dealing with trying to reduce emissions, and one is dealing with the impact of conditions that are going to be unavoidable. The entire globe is contributing to this problem, and some of these impacts are going to be unavoidable. We have to adapt no matter how good of a job we do locally."
Lingle also vetoed bills that would use $2.4 million in unemployment insurance trust fund money for worker retraining programs at community colleges and require energy efficiency standards at public schools that could increase construction costs by 8 percent to 15 percent.