Monday, February 9, 2009

National group to bring bad budget news

HONOLULU -- If misery loves company, Hawaii’s got plenty of both.

A new report by the National Conference of State Legislatures says the budget gap – the difference between what states have and what they need – has moved nationally from “sobering” to “distressing.”

NCSL Executive Director William Pound will bear the bad news personally to Hawaii on Thursday, when he’ll address the House Finance Committee.

Pound is expected to update the committee on current fiscal conditions, strategies being employed to meet budget shortfalls and whether states should expect much relief from the federal bailout, known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which is currently being negotiated in Congress.

Hawaii’s three-year budget shortfall is estimated at $1.8 billion, but even that intimidating figure could become more frightening. NCSL, in its interactive budget map, shows Hawaii’s FY 2009 budget gap at $353.3 million, or 5.8 percent of the state general fund.

Even though some states have taken corrective actions, the current FY 2009 gap still stands at $47.4 billion, on top of the $40.3 billion shortfall for the 2008 FY, according to NCSL, whose budget analysts are predicting it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

"These figures are absolutely alarming, both in their magnitude and in the painful decisions they present to state lawmakers," Corina Eckl, fiscal program director for NCSL, said in a statement. "The easy budget fixes are long gone, only hard and unpopular options remain.”