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House approves $11.1 billion budget

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House lawmakers advanced on Monday an $11.1 billion supplemental budget bill that leaders say takes a conservative approach to government spending amid an economic recovery that is still fragile.

House Finance Chairman Marcus Oshiro (D, Wahiawa-Poamoho) described the budget as an effort to re-prioritize, rehabilitate and renew government services.

"The steady, deliberate approach to this budget remains a prudent attempt at preparing for the challenges ahead," Oshiro said.

The budget appropriates about $5.61 billion from the state’s general fund, slightly higher than the $5.59 billion requested by Gov. Neil Abercrombie in his supplemental budget request to the Legislature in December.

Lawmakers received a boost last week when the state Council on Revenues, which forecasts the amount of revenue the state can expect, upgraded its quarterly forecast to 12 percent growth in the 2012 fiscal year that ends June 30. The forecast was up from 11.5 percent estimated in January, which translates into about $21.6 million in additional money.

"I welcome the good news of the Council of Revenues from last week, but we all know how fragile this economy and recovery can be," Oshiro said.

He said the budget focused on meeting the most basic needs, particularly in human services and agriculture; providing stability to the state’s financial plan by meeting long-term unfunded liabilities; and supporting long-term planning and accountability efforts to "fundamentally change the character and delivery of government services."

The House version of the budget includes some of the extra money Abercrombie has requested for welfare services, public school bus transportation, health care for the poor and child abuse prevention.

Lawmakers also backed the governor’s initial requests to help the state’s chief information officer overhaul the state’s aging and outdated technology.

The Finance Committee also initiated place holders in the budget to address damage statewide, particularly on Kauai, from the recent heavy rain and flooding.

The budget passed unanimously in the House and now goes to the Senate for further discussion and crafting.

House Republicans voted with the majority but also raised some concerns about the budget.

Minority Leader Gene Ward (R, Kalama Valley-Hawaii Kai) lamented what he called "hidden" aspects.

"Behind this budget are a lot of fees that are propping up this budget, fees that we don’t see but fees that are quite large," he said.

Ward said he had specific concerns about a $75,000 appropriation to the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs to study the feasibility of establishing a state bank that could offer loans for alternative-energy projects or help rescue homeowners facing mortgage foreclosure. Ward has consistently opposed such proposals.

"This is too costly to start and too risky to run," he said.

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