Friday, January 2, 2009

Lawmakers sharpening budget pencils







It’s never quite as simple as choosing between education, roads


or their own raises, but Hawaii lawmakers this year face one of those “can’t win for losing” types of legislative sessions.

Someone’s belt is going to pinch during these tough economic times, and budget shortfalls are bound to make for some testy sessions, especially with the prospect of lawmakers' own 36-percent raises looming.

The Hawaii Legislature kicks off the New Year with two weeks of budget briefings starting Monday. Gov. Linda Lingle has already presented her own slimmed-down budget that she says represents a 14-percent reduction in discretionary funding over the two-year period. Any early budgets, however, are sure to be further reduced when the state Council on Revenues meets Jan. 9.

Hawaii is certainly not alone, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, which says only 12 states aren’t expecting budget shortfalls.

“These budget gaps are approaching those seen in the last recession, which were the worst since World War II, and show every sign of growing larger,” NCSL Executive Director William T. Pound said in a statement. "While the data we collected from state legislative fiscal officers are pretty sobering, our discussions with legislative leaders tell us that they expect the problem to only get worse.”

Hawaii officials, however, seem optimistic that public works projects can help keep the state’s economy afloat. Hawaii is one of a half-dozen states that are actually planning on increasing public works projects, according to stateline.org, while another half-dozen states are paring down their capital improvement projects because of financing problems or diminishing bond ratings.

President-elect Barack Obama’s proposed stimulus plan could send money to states to help keep state economies rolling. That makes the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials happy.

“President-elect Barrack Obama is pledging to put millions of Americans to work by building and repairing the nation's highways and bridges and a new survey of state ‘ready-to-go’ transportation projects is the road map he needs to make it happen," said Executive Director John Horsley in a statement.