Ige requests $31 billion budget, increase to state’s disaster fund

  • LAURA RUMINSKI/West Hawaii Today file photo Gov. David Ige talks invasive species during the Western Governors' Association Winter Meeting on Dec. 10 at The Fairmont Orchid on the Kohala Coast.

HILO — Gov. David Ige’s requested budget for the next two years includes an increase in the state’s disaster fund as well as increased staff to manage the lingering effects of 2018’s natural disasters.

Ige’s executive budget for 2019-21, which he submitted to the state Legislature on Monday, requests, among many other things, an increase of $4.5 million to Hawaii’s Major Disaster Fund, bringing the fund up to $5 million.

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Ige cited “an increase in the number of natural disasters that we are responding to” in the past year, alluding to the Kilauea volcano eruption in lower Puna, severe flooding on Kauai and Oahu and the effects of Hurricanes Lane and Olivia throughout the state.

The former two of those disasters are explicitly cited in the budget itself, with the Department of Defense requesting additional staffing — specifically 12 temporary positions with a combined annual pay of $620,000 — for the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency to process federal reimbursement requests incurred during the eruption and the flooding events. Those temporary positions would be paid for through the Major Disaster Fund.

The increase to disaster funding is a fraction of the full request, which seeks a total operating budget of approximately $31 billion — with $15.4 billion for fiscal year 2020 and the remainder for fiscal year 2021 — and a capital improvements budget of $2.02 billion.

Ige highlighted the provisions within the budget to support Hawaii education. The budget allocates a total operating cost of approximately $4.5 billion to the Department of Education, an increase of 7.5 percent from the previous biennium.

Many of those allocations include school repair, maintenance and renovation funding; in particular, more than $400 million is allocated for statewide infrastructure improvements, $14.5 million in capital funds for pre-kindergarten renovations and $3 million for the Student Innovation Fund.

Meanwhile, the budget will increase funding to the University of Hawaii by about 14.5 percent. Among renovations to several UH campuses, the budget allocates a total of $13 million to “renew, improve and modernize” UH-Hilo during the course of the biennium.

The budget also allocates $19 million to expand the state’s Hawaii Promise scholarship program to all four-year UH institutions, not just through community colleges.

Ige said the budget also will continue to address high-priority issues for the state, including continuing sustainability initiatives and alleviating homelessness and providing affordable housing.

The budget allocates well more than $200 million in capital funds to various projects by the Sustainable Hawaii Initiative, including $1.3 million to improve the Waimea irrigation system in fiscal year 2021. Other allocations include $2 million to the Invasive Species Council, more than $10 million toward watershed protection and $1.6 million for rapid ohia death and wildfire response activities.

Addressing housing, the budget includes $315 million in affordable housing projects for the next two years, including $100 million in both fiscal years to the state’s rental housing revolving fund, which provides low-interest loans for affordable rentals, and a total of $75 million for public housing development.

Ige said the state has funded 21 affordable rental programs so far during his time as governor, and his message to the Legislature added that the state has made “great progress” toward its goal of producing 10,000 new housing units by 2020, along with a new goal of 22,500 affordable rentals by 2026.

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Meanwhile, the budget will provide $1.9 million for housing subsidies to keep at-risk families from losing their homes, as well as $3.75 million each year for the state’s Housing First program, including mental health and addiction services to help address the causes of homelessness, and $5 million both years to fund homeless property storage.

“This budget is all about making progress and investments that reflect the values that we share as a community and the values that we share as people who choose to call Hawaii home,” Ige said.