Lawmakers cut funding for TMT enforcement from state budget

  • Law enforcement officers from various agencies stand ready at the Maunakea Access Road in July 2019. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

HONOLULU — As Hawaii County’s mayor seeks to delay construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope for two months or longer, state lawmakers have approved cuts in law enforcement operations to deal with events such as the demonstrations that blocked access to the telescope.

House legislators approved a rough draft of a new state operating budget Tuesday that cut more than $65 million in law enforcement funding requested by Democratic Gov. David Ige, House Finance Committee Chairwoman Rep. Sylvia Luke said.

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Demonstrators blocked access to the summit of Mauna Kea, Hawaii’s highest mountain, to prevent construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope from July through December. Demonstrators said the project could damage land considered sacred by some Native Hawaiians.

Ige said in December he had placed money in the budgets of various departments to cope with protests.

For this year and next year, the administration budgeted $8.7 million for the attorney general’s office, nearly $36 million for the state Department of Defense, $8.7 million for the Department of Land and Natural Resources, $8.4 million for the Department of Public Safety, and $18.4 million for the Department of Transportation, according to data provided by Luke, a Democrat.

The governor’s chief of staff, Linda Chu Takayama, said in a statement that the money requested by Ige was “a contingency amount for any upcoming projects that may attract community activism, including but not limited to Mauna Kea.”

The draft budget approved by the House includes $15 million for the state Department of Defense that can be distributed to state departments this year to ensure they have enough money to operate, but does not come close to the entire amount Ige requested.

Hawaii Mayor Harry Kim said Tuesday that extending a temporary moratorium on the telescope’s construction could allow officials to reach an agreement with opponents of the project.

Kim negotiated a temporary truce in December that reopened the summit access road but put the construction on hold until the end of February.

“I really would like to have a longer extension because I would like to use this extension period of quiet and non-confrontational element to see what we can do to move forward,” Kim said.

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Telescope spokesman Scott Ishikawa confirmed Kim reached out to project officials but said there is no current time frame for restarting construction.

Kim expects a response from telescope officials about the proposed extension later this week, he said.

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