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Senate panel restores some money to state budget


A state Senate panel has passed a version of the state budget that restored some funding that the House had stripped out, but the panel left several departments wanting more money.

The two-year, $26.3 billion state budget was passed by the Senate Ways and Means Committee Wednesday. Its next stop is the full Senate for a vote.

The Senate committee voted to increase spending for controlling invasive species, adding $4 million each year for the Hawaii Invasive Species Council.

"We have little fire ants in Hana, and in Molokai we have some other things, and there’s people that do some front line work, and while we don’t see it, if they fail at this, it impacts our economy to the tunes of billions and billions of dollars," said Sen. J. Kalani English. A dengue scare more than a decade ago cost $1 billion in lost tourism revenue, he said.

The Department of Land and Natural Resources also will get $3 million in each fiscal year to eradicate albizia trees, which fell by the hundred during Tropical Storm Iselle, causing widespread damage.

The committee also voted to allow the state parks system to spend more of its own money that it gets from fees.

The panel approved funding to repair public housing structures, but it granted far less money than the agency requested.

Without enough money, the Hawaii Public Housing Authority can’t make needed repairs to housing, "and if you can’t house, you have people on the street," said Hakim Ouansafi, executive director of the authority.

The agency manages and maintains 6,200 units, and has a repair and maintenance backlog that’s projected to cost $800 million over the next decade. It had requested $80 million over two years to do the most crucial projects, "without which we have to dislocate people because the housing is not safe, decent or sanitary," Ouansafi told the committee. "These funds are extremely necessary to be able to repair these units and make them available to the 10,000 plus people waiting on our list," he said.

Sen. Jill Tokuda, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, called the $80 million request daunting. Gov. David Ige had requested $5 million per year for repairs to public housing in his draft of the budget. The House had stripped that to zero, and Tokuda’s committee restored the funding to the governor’s suggested levels.

"We’re still looking at what we can do to provide the support," Tokuda said.

The Department of Hawaiian Homelands will get an additional $4.4 million each year to fund 80 positions in the department, and $2.2 million each year for fringe benefits to employees.

Some funding was approved for a statewide sex abuse treatment center that had lost federal funding, but the appropriation also fell below the center’s request.

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