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Tuesday, October 21, 2014         

ON POLITICS


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Abercrombie's glass worse than half empty

By Richard Borreca

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During the budget battles of 2010, Democrats and Republican Gov. Linda Lingle traded barbs about how each had handled the budget.

It is painful to have to recall it, but both sides blamed the other for "kicking the can down the road" instead of dealing with our money problems.

Somehow neither side was very good in can-kicking, because that can is back and it appears it have become a six-pack of money woes.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie's new department appointees have spent the last week going before the Legislature to say not only does the state have no money, the budget has been cut so much barely any workers are left.

Bruce Coppa, interim accounting and general services director, must be wondering why bother turning on the lights in state buildings because hardly anyone is left inside.

"The economic downturn, resulting decline in general fund revenue and subsequent fiscal actions resulted in a loss of 171 or 25 percent of the department's general fund positions from fiscal 2008," Coppa told the Senate.

Coppa wants to upgrade the state computer system so that all the computers can run together. But the state's information systems department has been reduced 36 percent because of layoffs and abolishing of vacant positions.

"Sustaining production capabilities with the loss of staff have been challenging and problems rapidly become crisis," Coppa said, noting in his testimony that in fiscal year 2012, DAGS is supposed to see a $5.2 million cut from its budget.

Over at the state Labor Department, 61 full-time positions were eliminated, just when unemployment claims, processed by the department, were soaring. It meant that the average time between filing a wage complaint and a finding of fact went from 35 days to 120 days. And the department's Office of Community Service clients went from 30,539 in 2009 to 51,478 in 2010.

Former Sen. Russell Kokubun, now interim director of the Agriculture Department, warns that "recent reductions in the general funds budget allow the department to only carry out the highest priority functions."

Highest priority means that the state can't inspect much of anything for bugs and pests. Pest interception rates have dropped 75 percent, Kokubun said.

Also, the state no longer publishes its market analysis and news and Hawaii agricultural statistics. Remember when we were going to become the fish, prawn and shrimp place with our state-of-the-art aquaculture program? Budget cuts have reduced it to just two employees.

In times of no money, the folks who go out and get you more money, the tax collectors, are critical. But the state has been dumping them along with other warm bodies.

"The (Tax) Department had its general fund budget reduced by $5.3 million, 21 percent, and its permanent authorized positions reduced by 43.5, or 11 percent," said interim Tax Director Frederick Pablo.

"Increase in workload for the remaining staff ... has led to burnout, health issues, absenteeism, increase in labor relations issues and difficulty retaining trained skilled employees," Pablo said.

When Abercrombie gives his first State of the State speech, he won't be looking at a glass that is half-empty or half-full -- he will be looking at a glass that ran dry.

Richard Borreca writes on politics every Tuesday, Friday and Sunday. Reach him at rborreca@staradvertiser.com.






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