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Senate Ways and Means Committee Visits Hawai‘i Island

Senators visit the Pohoiki Swim Area and Boat Ramp. (L-R: Sen. Laura Thielen, Sen. Michelle Kidani, Sen. J. Kalani English, Sen. Donna Mercado-Kim, Sen. David Ige, Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland, and Sen. Russell Ruderman.)

Earlier this week, the Senate Committee on Ways and Means, Hawai‘i Island Senators, and the Senate President conducted site visits across Hawai‘i Island. Led by Ways and Means Chair David Ige, Ways and Means Committee members, Hawaii Island Senators Malama Solomon, Josh Green, Gil Kahele, and Russell Ruderman, and Senate President Donna Mercado Kim toured and were updated on various programs, projects, and concerns.

While on Hawai‘i Island, Senators visited the Kona Airport, Judiciary Courthouse, Kona Community Hospital, UH Hawai‘i Community College Palamanui Site, Waimea Middle School, Puna Community Medical Center, Pahoa Public Library, Pohoiki Swim Area and Boat Ramp, Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy Research Labs, UH Hilo Student Housing, Old Hilo Memorial Hospital, and Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy Modules. They also held a community informational meeting at the Waimea Middle School cafeteria.

The Hawai‘i Island visit is part of a number of statewide site visits the Senate Ways and Means Committee will conduct this interim.

Senators tour the Kona Community Hospital.

Senators hold a community informational meeting at Waimea Middle School.

(Photos Courtesy: The Senate Ways and Means Committee.)

WAM Chair Describes Key Aspects of the Senate’s Draft of the State Budget

Earlier this month, the Senate Committee on Ways and Means unanimously voted to pass the Senate’s version of the $11 billion supplemental budget for the State of Hawaii, House Bill (HB) 2012. Following three years of budget cuts totaling more than a billion dollars each year, this year’s budget provided the Senate with a refreshing opportunity to reinforce the safety net where needed, reinstitute core services that have been decimated over the past three years, and make strategic investments in key areas that can help us grow the economy and sustain a more prosperous future for Hawaii.

The Senate’s version of the budget is both responsible and responsive to the governor’s budget requests. Most of the governor’s initiatives have been funded, as they pertain to maintaining the safety net and restoring the ability of government to perform necessary functions.

The governor’s budget includes funding to significantly improve the infrastructure for information technology (IT) throughout state government, an area in which the Senate has led by example. The Senate’s budget includes more than $27 million dollars for critical infrastructure IT projects that will support increased efficiency in the transformation of state government. The Senate also supports the governor’s broadband initiative to improve services and deployment of broadband to ensure that each and every citizen has access.

The Senate also aims at strengthening the safety net, including adding funds for child welfare, domestic violence shelters, Medicaid, and various shortfalls across the Department of Human Services, including an additional $18.2 million directed at the temporary assistance for needy families program. In addition the Senate is supporting $3.6 million for information technology initiatives to modernize the Department of Human Services.

Notably, the Senate has underscored education as a top priority by adding $44 million to the Department of Education’s budget. Specifically, the Senate’s budget focuses on key areas of investment in education, including: the weighted student formula, student meals, the community school for adult program; early learning, and student transportation.

Following significant evaluations of the Charter School system, the Legislature has a measure this year to rewrite the charter school law. This is also reflected in the Senate budget. To ensure equal appropriations for the public schools and the charter schools, the Senate added about $1 million dollars to assist in the transition plan and its implementation, as well as equal per pupil operating funding based on project enrollment.

After years of neglect in our public libraries the Senate appropriated $500,000 for e-books, books, and other circulatory materials for our state libraries. This is the first appropriation for new circulation materials in the last four years.

The Senate’s version of the 2012 Supplemental Budget seeks to move the State forward, protect safety net services, and make strategic investments that will advance our economy.

To view video click here.

WAM Chair Talks About Committee’s Decision to Hold the “Dream Act”

Senator David Y. Ige, chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means, explained the committee’s decision to hold House Bill 1457, known as Hawaii’s version of the federal “Dream Act.” The measure, which passed out of the Senate Committee on Education on March 19, 2012, would allow Hawaii high school graduates without lawful immigration status to receive state funded financial aid and resident tuition at the University of Hawaii.

Senator Ige stated, “It really has been a difficult issue for me and the committee to deal with…On the one hand, we do believe that all of our students should have access to higher education. And for those undocumented immigrants, who have lived in Hawaii and attended our high schools, that all of them should have access to our higher education system at the residential rate. These are taxpaying citizens who contribute considerably to our communities.”

Senator Ige further explained, “Twelve years ago, I led the charge to provide more flexibility to the University and we eliminated all mandated tuition waivers and gave full authority of tuition to the Board of Regents…. We’ve decided to hold this measure and respectfully request that the Regents take up this issue because I truly believe that this is an issue that the Regents should decide. If in fact we don’t see any action we can take it up as a policy matter.”

To view video click here.

Senate Passes The Invest in Hawaii Act of 2012

HONOLULU–  The Senate unanimously passed The Invest in Hawaii Act of 2012 (Senate Bill 2012) today.  The bill will go to the House next for consideration.

Garnering bipartisan support, Senate Bill 2012, is an aggressive $500 million general obligation bond-funded Capital Improvement Program package aimed at creating jobs by investing and stimulating our local economy from all corners of the state.

We are proud of this legislation, which has united all members of the Senate,” said Senate President Shan Tsutsui.  “This bill will get our economic engine going and create much-needed jobs that will get thousands of people off the bench and back to work.”

With Hawaii experiencing the lowest interest rates on record and significant savings made from the State’s most recent bond authorization and issuance, now is the time to invest in our State. The program will appropriate funds for shovel-ready projects that will create jobs for all trades in the construction industry – from carpenters to consultants.  According to conservative estimates by the Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism’s (DBEDT) job multiplier, this measure could create or sustain more than 5,000 jobs.

We have an opportunity to address long-standing needs in a cost effective manner.  Interest rates are at an historic low and bids for contracted work are currently coming in at discounted rates,” said Senator David Ige, chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means.  “The convergence of these factors makes now the opportune time to make an aggressive investment in our state’s infrastructure.”

Projects under consideration will focus on repair and maintenance needs to address aging infrastructure concerns and to extend the useful life of existing state-owned assets and facilities.  It will also include those that address health and safety code concerns.  A portion of Governor Abercrombie’s $300 million request for construction projects that are shovel-ready or address repair and maintenance concerns are funded by the measure.

The State departments currently identified as part of the Program are:  the Department of Education, including the State Public Library System; the University of Hawaii, including athletic facilities; the Department of Accounting and General Services; the Department of Agriculture; the Department of Defense; the Department of Health, and health care facilities of the Hawaii Health Systems Corporation, the Department of Human Services; the Department of Land and Natural Resources; the Department of Public Safety and the Judiciary.  Funding will be allocated depending on each department’s needs and ability to commence work immediately.

Here are highlights of the funding:

–$150,000,000 for repair and maintenance projects and to address infrastructure needs, such as science and technology, electricity, and other utility infrastructure improvements, within the public school system.

–$3,000,000 for repair and maintenance projects within the Hawaii State Library system.

–$90,000,000 for capital renewal and deferred maintenance projects of the University of Hawaii at Manoa and the University of Hawaii at Hilo.

–$25,000,000 for capital renewal and deferred maintenance projects within the University of Hawaii community college system.

–$60,000,000  for repair and maintenance projects of the Department of Accounting and General Services.

–$40,000,000  for repair and maintenance projects of the Department of Human Services.

–$40,000,000  for repair and maintenance projects of the Hawaii Health Systems Corporation.

Another priority of the bill is to develop sustainable and renewable energy resources, such as photovoltaic technology.  Investing in renewable energy and upgrades to information technology initiatives throughout schools, hospitals, and office buildings will ultimately lead to cost savings and a reduction of the State’s carbon footprint.

In order to expedite the backlog of repair and maintenance projects, Senate Bill 2012 makes revisions to the State’s permitting, approval and procurement processes.  As a result, the accelerated processes will expedite the creation of jobs and facilitate the return to work for many of our residents.

This measure means that badly needed repairs and deferred maintenance projects that many state facilities have waited years to do can finally be given the green light to proceed.  Passing this legislation now would be an excellent way for us to create the needed jobs for our unemployed trade workers.  All companies, including small businesses, are encouraged to register with the State Procurement Office’s online system in order to be eligible to bid on projects,” said Senator Michelle Kidani, who serves as vice chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means and oversees Capital Improvements Projects for the Senate.   “The process is fair and transparent with bids posted publicly for everyone to see.”

If the measure passes the House and the Governor approves the bill, projects could begin immediately.

For more information on the bill:  http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/.

Senator David Y. Ige Offers Remarks on Senate Bill 2819

This afternoon, Senate Committee on Ways and Means Chair David Y. Ige explained Senate Bill 2819, relating to the sales of electronic cigarettes. The committee heard testimony on the bill earlier today, on February 8, 2012. The bill places e-cigarettes with other tobacco products as items prohibited to be sold to a minor and amends the definition of “tobacco products” for purposes of taxation. For more information about the bill and to view the bill’s status, click here: http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/measure_indiv.aspx?billtype=SB&billnumber=2819&year=2012.

Decision making on the measure has been deferred until Friday, February 10, 2012 at 11:00 am in conference room 211.

Lihue Courthouse to Receive Makeover

LIHUE, KAUAI — The project to give Lihue Courthouse a makeover is now in the planning phase, according to the Department of Accounting and General Services (DAGS).

DAGS told the Senate Committee on Ways and Means at a briefing Thursday it will be asking the Legislature for funding approval on full renovations, which includes office space conversion and addresses hazardous material abatement.

If funds are appropriated, the project is expected to be completed in 2014.

When the renovations are complete, the State plans to move in agencies currently in commercial office leases.

“Occupying the building with some State agencies will save taxpayers money and greatly reduce what we spend on leasing space,” said Sen. Ronald Kouchi (District 7, Kauai and Niihau), who attended the WAM meeting. “We would be able to save about $800-thousand in leasing office space to house various state departments every year.”

The building has been sitting empty for the past two years. It was used as a transitional shelter for homeless families from June 2007 to June 2009. The building was vacated five years ago when judiciary officials moved in to a new building.

The Lihue Courthouse is listed on the both the Hawaii and National Register of Historic Places, therefore renovations will follow historic guidelines.

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