Gov. Neil Abercrombie, the former University of Hawaii lecturer, is handing out his first exam of the new year.
Instead of querying UH undergrads, Abercrombie is readying a test for his Cabinet, not for the school year, but rather the 2012 fiscal year.
In a detailed memo issued on June 16, Abercrombie called for budget savings of $50 million for the coming fiscal year and another $50 million for the year after.
Departments are to mull over the cuts and submit "discussion papers" by July 7.
They turn in worksheets, meet with the Governor’s Office and implement the cuts by Aug. 9.
Abercrombie was forced to call for the cuts because the new state budget orders that the $50 million go to pay state worker health insurance costs.
Calling it the "2011 Program Review," Abercrombie tells his Cabinet that each department will "make honest and discerning assessments of its programs and services as compared to its primary mission."
Out of a $5 billion state general fund, finding $50 million to cut is not hard. It may be nibbling around the edges of the state budget, but the hard part is telling the bureaucrat or person getting chopped that it is his or her head, arm or other body part that must go.
"Difficult and painful decisions must be made for this review, but the alternatives are worse — more vacant positions, more deferred maintenence," Abercrombie warned.
Back in 2003, then-Gov. Linda Lingle tried to make specific budget cuts. First she said she would cut $5 million from the state’s adult education services.
Grousing that the Department of Education was teaching karaoke and country line dancing, Lingle said they didn’t appear to be "core functions of government."
A big uproar followed, adult education was spared and Lingle and her budget machete were forced to hunt elsewhere. It should be added that this year the DOE is cutting $5 million from adult education by itself and while it still continues its core service of teaching English to immigrant groups and helping high school drop-outs get their GED, karaoke and line dancing are taught in at least three schools.
Looking for other programs to cut, Lingle seized on the Commission on the Status of Women. Up went the howls of protest, claiming that because then-director Allicyn Tasaka had been former Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono’s press secretary and worked in Hirono’s failed campaign for governor in 2002, Lingle was exacting her revenge, not cutting the budget.
Eventually Lingle tired of attempting to snip away program by program and instead ordered everyone to just stop spending so much. She ordered hiring freezes, cuts to groups such the symphony and cultural celebrations, budget cuts of 5 or 10 percent, restricted travel and finally was forced to resort to furloughs, layoffs and lagging the income tax returns.
Abercrombie, in his message signing the budget, says "we cannot continue the status quo, continuing to cut resources from programs which are already hurting and in some cases unable to properly function."
The question now to be answered by Abercrombie is, "Does this mean next year you will call for tax increases?"
Richard Borreca writes on politics on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.