Gov. David Ige says the state is serious about buying the Federal Detention Center near the Honolulu airport to house inmates from Hawaii’s overcrowded
correctional system, but acknowledges it would literally require an act of Congress to make the deal happen.
At a briefing for reporters Monday, Ige said state officials have approached the White House and the federal government about buying the detention center next to Daniel K. Inouye International Airport. He said the response from the Federal Bureau of Prisons was that the agency has authority to build and operate prisons and jails but no authority to sell them.
With that in mind, Ige said he has been working with Hawaii’s federal delegation to see whether it would be possible to get U.S. Congress to authorize the sale of the federal jail
to the state. At the same time, Ige said, the state is pressing ahead with a plan to develop
a new jail on land near the Halawa Correctional Facility.
Ige made those comments at a briefing for the media on the administration’s proposed supplemental budget for fiscal years 2020 and 2021.
Ige on Monday unveiled a proposed new state budget that would increase spending this fiscal year to $15.695 billion, including
federal and special funds, and would increase the budget for the year that begins July 1 to $16.197 billion.
The budget for construction spending would remain at $2.331 billion this year under Ige’s proposal but would increase to $2.624 billion next year. That is a $1.468 billion increase over the construction budget for fiscal 2021 that was approved by lawmakers last session.
Ige said this is the time to spend on public infrastructure projects because interest rates are low, and the state now has the highest bond rating ever. A higher bond rating further reduces borrowing costs for the state.
“Capital projects also have a broad and positive economic impact on our communities, supporting jobs — particularly in the construction industry,” Ige said in a written statement.
The administration’s budget proposal would add $220 million to the public school construction budget for next year and add
$86.8 million to the construction budget for the University of Hawaii system.
Also included in the Ige budget is an extra $14.5 million for this year and $26.7 million for next year for extra pay for public school classroom teachers in shortage areas.
The proposal calls for a $10,000-
a-year bump in pay for special-
education teachers, an extra $8,000 a year for Hawaiian immersion teachers and $3,000 to $8,000 extra pay for teachers who work in geographic areas where teaching positions are particularly hard to fill.
The proposed budget also adds $1.4 million this year and $1.9 million next year for extra compensation for shortage differentials for charter school teachers.
Ige’s latest budget proposal projects the state will spend about $146 million more out of the general fund this year than it will collect in taxes and other revenue, and will spend about $288 million more out of the general fund than it will collect next year.
Ige said his new proposed budget does not assume there will be any tax increases, although he said there may be some fee increases for services. He also said his administration will not propose an
increase in the state gasoline tax, which is an idea he has proposed in the past only to see it rejected by lawmakers.
The proposed administration budget also includes $20 million
in consulting fees to “acquire or
to construct” a replacement for the Oahu Community Correctional Center.
“We are pursuing both projects in parallel. We are moving along in the hopes that we can relocate OCCC if that works out, but we are making a full-court press to acquire the Federal Detention Center,” he said. “That would save us time and save us money if we are able to acquire the federal detention center. That would allow us to accelerate our programs to really make the OCCC site available for other activities or other uses.”
But the $20 million request
appears likely to encounter
resistance at the Legislature. Lawmakers rejected a similar request for $5 million this year to pursue a public-private partnership to build a new jail.
House Finance Chairwoman
Sylvia Luke said Hawaii needs to reform its bail system before the administration moves ahead with plans for a new jail.
Half of the population in the state’s jails is awaiting trial, and “with a successful bail reform and different types of diversion models, these individuals should not be in the current jail,” said Luke (D, Punchbowl-Pauoa-Nuuanu).
“We continued to stress to them that they need to get an accurate picture of what your real population is and what you are trying to accomplish, and we have not seen that yet,” she said.
The federal detention center at 353 Elliott St. opened in 2001, and can house about 1,200 prisoners if the inmates are double-celled. Ige said it is large enough to replace the aging and severely overcrowded OCCC in Kalihi.
Much of the FDC is vacant, and the state has been renting space in the federal lockup to help relieve overcrowding in state jails.
Ige is also seeking $5 million related to homelessness to remove and store property left on state land. He said he expects there will be more “enforcement activities.”
“The public libraries, for example, are finding homeless individuals setting up on their properties,” he said. “We see homeless in areas that we haven’t done sweeps, and we know that we want to and are committed to keeping public spaces public. I mean, having homeless individuals on a library site discourages patrons from utilizing the libraries, and we want to avoid that happening.”
However, Ige cited statistics that he said show the state is making progress on homelessness.
“Prior to 2017, only 4,000 homeless individuals per year were placed in permanent housing. In 2018, more than 7,000 homeless people were placed in permanent housing. This year, we’re on track to exceed 7,000 placements,” he said.