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Hawaii News

Support may dull budget blades

Deep funding cuts proposed for the city Office of Economic Development and the Mayor’s Office on Culture and the Arts could be scaled back, a key lawmaker says, depending on the support each agency receives when the City Council meets today to weigh budget plans.

The reductions are being considered along with increase in specific taxes and various user fees as the Council crafts its budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Up for consideration are cuts of $337,979 from the Office of Economic Development’s $476,156 budget and $303,536 from Culture and the Arts’ $345,188 budget.

"At this point I would say that there will be some degree of cuts," Council Budget Chairman Ernie Martin said yesterday. "There will probably be some restoration, based on testimony received (today) and when we go back to committee, but what I’ve seen thus far, it’d be very hard to justify full restoration."

Members of the local arts community are expected to show up in force today to support the Mayor’s Office of Culture and Arts, known as MOCA.

"MOCA’s role goes beyond just administering grants, which help sustain the arts community," Selena Ching, executive director of Hawaii Youth Symphony, said in testimony submitted in advance of today’s hearing. "It facilitates dialogue in the community, fostering collaborations and community partnerships that strengthen the community as a whole.

"The arts is a sector that deserves to be supported and protected to ensure the health and well-being of our communities."

The state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism supported the Office of Economic Development, saying the city agency has been instrumental in helping to obtain federal grants for community proj­ects. The city administration opposes the cuts, saying vital work would be left undone.

Martin said the proposed cuts were preliminary, but added Council members have been under public pressure to prioritize funding and focus on core services, including fixing Hono­lulu’s deteriorating roads and maintaining public parks.

While he believes Council members support many of the nonprofit groups helped by the city departments, Martin said one issue to be considered is "whether it takes all the personnel that presently exists in those offices to administer those grants."

Meanwhile, Council members take up a slew of other measures all aimed at funding Mayor Peter Carlisle’s proposed $1.9 billion operating budget.

The Carlisle administration has proposed increases in public golf course greens fees, zoo admission, public employee parking, sewer fees and other user-fee items to help the city cover the cost of providing those services.

Carlisle also has proposed a 1-cent increase in the city’s 16.5-cents-per-gallon fuel tax this year as part of a 6-cents-per-gallon increase phased in over three years.

Officials said the money from the fuel tax would go to the city Highway Fund and could be used for road repairs as a way to lessen the amount of debt the city takes on. Council members advanced the proposal for further discussion, although Martin said he would not support moving the bill to a final reading.

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