The Hawai‘i State Senate adjourned the 2016 regular session with a sense of accomplishment in passing a fiscally responsible budget, addressing priority needs for the state, and tackling a number of challenging issues as highlighted in the Hawai‘i Senate Majority Legislative Program at the start of the 2016 Session.
Over the course of this legislative session, Senators, along with their House counterparts, approved substantial funding to install air conditioning for our public schools, provided an unprecedented appropriation for homeless programs statewide, delivered additional support to meet the housing needs for Hawai‘i’s families, and improved health care services.
In his closing remarks, Senate President Ronald D. Kouchi (Dist. 8 -Kaua’i, Ni’ihau) reflected upon the trials the body faced this session with the passing of Sen. Gilbert Kahele, as well as the health challenges faced by Senators Breene Harimoto and Sam Slom. He praised the courage of Senators Harimoto and Slom, and complimented the Senate staff for working hard under trying circumstances to get the work of the people done.
“In the face of difficulty, I congratulate each and every one of you for continuing to focus on the important work of the Legislature,” said Kouchi. “Through collaboration and cooperation, we are able to present not only a fiscally responsible budget, but also sound policy of which the citizens of Hawai‘i will see benefits.”
In alignment with the Hawai‘i Senate Majority Legislative Program theme of providing for our families (Mālama ‘Ohana), a $12 million lump sum appropriation for homeless programs is a recognition of this statewide concern and represents a significant opportunity to change the way to approach the homeless problem. In understanding the holistic need to address this crisis, $160 million in funds for improvements at the Hawai‘i State Hospital, along with $3 million in general funds for the Hawai‘i Public Housing Authority and $75 million allocated toward the rental Housing Assistance Revolving Fund and Dwelling Unit Revolving Fund will support efforts to approach the homeless issue from a variety of angles.
In an investment in our children, lawmakers took a bold step and increased Preschool Open Doors base funding to $10 million, which will help struggling families with real opportunities for school readiness. Lawmakers also found a fiscally creative solution to fund a $100 million emergency appropriation for air conditioning and heat abatement measures that will help move forward the Department of Education program to cool schools.
In terms of nurturing our earth, (Mālama Honua) lawmakers provided substantial resources to study in-stream flow standards and assess water availability, a number of bills along with $1.6 million in general funds for various water infrastructure support statewide and more than $4.7 million in general funds was provided in bills for conservation efforts and the fight against invasive species. More than $4.8 in general funds in various measures provide a solid foundation to reinforce agriculture as an industry moving forward.
By focusing on growing jobs and our economy, appropriations and measures to provide $4 million in grants and allocating funds to strengthen our infrastructure and position in the Pacific through the Hawai‘i Broadband Initiative, along with $1 million in general funds to budget for HI-Growth and $100,000 in matching general funds for the state’s Creative Labs program, fall in line with sustaining our communities (Mālama Kaiāulu).
Lawmakers passed measures that reflected good governance (Mālama Aupuni) by making steps toward taking care of our debts and obligations by approving $150 million for the Rainy Day Fund and $81.9 million to pay down unfunded liabilities.
“This puts us on a more solid financial footing going forward, knowing that if and when times get tough, paying less always helps,” said Sen. Jill Tokuda (Dist.24 – Kane‘ohe, Kane‘ohe MCAB, Kailua, He‘eia, ‘Ahuimanu), Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means.
Lawmakers also provided $1.15 billion in general obligation bonds and $2.5 billion for projects funded by all other means of financing for capital improvement projects that will play a vital role in rebuilding our economy and strengthening our social infrastructure.
On the contentious issues this session, such as water rights and transient accommodations tax collection, the Senate displayed its ability to participate in healthy debate, yet continue to collaborate while keeping the best interests of the people of Hawai‘i in mind.
“One of the strengths of the Senate is our ability to have differing opinions, yet recognize when to put those sentiments aside to get to work and come up with solutions,” said Senate Majority Leader, Sen. J. Kalani English (Dist. 7 – Hana, East and Upcountry Maui, Moloka‘i, Lana‘i, Kaho‘olawe). “The measures we passed this session achieved our goal of improving the quality of life for our keiki, kūpuna, and nā ‘ohana who are most in need and we will continue to work to ensure what we’ve put in place this session will continue to move our state forward.”
The Hawai‘i Senate Majority 2016 Legislative Program can be viewed on the website: www.hawaiisenatemajority.com