‘Cautiously Optimistic’: Ige’s State Budget Restores Cuts, Adds Resources
Hawai‘i Gov. David Ige laid out his biennial state budget on Monday, Dec. 20, restoring programs and resources that had been stripped away during the last two pandemic years, adding resources in others, and otherwise painting a picture that the worst of the dire COVID-19 economy is in the rear view.
Still, the governor said during his presentation, it’s important for the state not to let its guard down when it comes to managing the rest of COVID’s impacts on state resources, which is why his proposal includes $1 billion tucked away in the state’s rainy day fund.
“While we are cautiously optimistic, we must prepare for unforeseen events,” Ige said.
Ige’s Executive Supplemental Budget for 2021-23 must be approved by the state legislature before it goes into effect.
The draft proposes a $16.01 billion budget for fiscal year 2022 and a $16.9 billion for fiscal year 2023. The 2022 amount is about .1% less than the current budget, while the 2023 budget is about 10% higher than this year’s.
“This budget request is very different from budget requests of the previous two years, when we had to cut more than $1 billion, and all state agencies were forced to slash spending,” Ige said. “This year, the economy has improved more quickly than anticipated.”
Namely, the proposed plan restores and adds resources whereas the pandemic-era budgets reduced them. Part of the reason for the bright economic outlook is that, so far in fiscal year 2022, revenues have exceeded expectations by 27.3% A large part of that has to do with visitors travelling to Hawai‘i after the state’s reopening. Around 9.5 million domestic visitors have passed through the Aloha State via Hawai‘i’s Safe Travels program. More can be expected once international travel returns to previous levels, Ige said.
“Our budget proposals for the next year transition Hawaiʻi’s health system and economy from focusing on pandemic response to embracing a new normal that carefully reopens our islands for business and social interaction,” the governor’s message on the proposal reads.
Ige’s budget features major economic allocations for public education, capital improvement projects and public safety. They include:
- $689 million to restore and invest in public education. This amount includes around $100 million for the Department of Education to restore programs that were taken away or reduced over the last two years; $32.5 million to pay for classroom teacher differential shortages; $240 million for DOE facilities; and $4.3 million to improve distance learning capabilities.
- $86 million to the University of Hawai‘i. This includes $1.75 million for its nursing program and 20 permanent nursing positions on neighbor islands.
- $33.3 million for broadband infrastructure additions, which Ige said was part of “the most significant investment in broadband in the state’s history.”
- $10 million for public housing development, improvements, and renovations, statewide.
- $5,000,000 for statewide loan capitalization for the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.
- $17.6 million to restore the funding of 291.5 permanent positions for various programs for the Department of Public Safety.