Governor’s budget cuts wise and courageous

My colleagues and I at the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii are not shy about challenging the actions of public officials. It’s part of our mission to promote a freer, more prosperous Hawaii.

But we also want to celebrate wins and give credit where credit is due — which is why I would like to praise Gov. Josh Green for his recent courageous and wise budget cuts.

Already faced with a budget-busting appropriations bill that threatened to deplete the state’s projected surplus, the governor then had to contend with bad news from the state Council of Revenues.

The Council’s general fund projection for fiscal 2023 featured a 2% increase as recently as March. In mid-May, however, that projection was downgraded to a 1% decline.

This news prompted Gov. Green to announce this week that he planned to trim approximately $1 billion from the Legislature’s proposed biennial budget via 22 separate line-item vetoes, the most substantial of which include cutting:

>> $500 million from the state’s Emergency Budget Reserve Fund for fiscal 2025 but allowing $500 million to be paid into the fund in fiscal 2024.

>> $120 million for planned teacher housing, leaving $50 million to continue the project.

>> $88.8 million from an irrigation infrastructure project, leaving $5 million.

>> $42 million for Kalaeloa electric upgrades, leaving $5 million.

>> $25 million for state parks renovations and improvements.

These and other cuts are likely to draw criticism, but in fact, the budget passed by the Legislature was so excessive that we’re still $1 billion over the state’s constitutionally mandated spending cap.

Ironically, some of the complaints about the governor’s budget cuts are for allocations that remain higher than the previous year. For example: Even after the cuts, the state Department of Education’s general fund budget will be 8% more than in fiscal 2023.

The governor catching heat for reducing a budget item that still amounts to an increase provides some insight into the political courage it took to make such decisions.

For those of us who support fiscal responsibility, it serves as a glimpse into the difficult balance the governor has to strike between protecting the financial future of the state and working with the different factions involved in budget decisions. It can’t be easy navigating between the principles of sound budgeting and political reality.

Gov. Green also had to work with what he was given: an appropriations bill with record-high spending that landed on his desk at the same time that the state’s financial outlook began to dim. The fact that he did the right thing and cut spending — as difficult as it was — deserves recognition.

It is encouraging to see that the governor is willing to listen to all sides and make tough decisions. That’s the spirit of “E hana kākou” in action.

And if Gov. Green is in need of any more ideas about how to reduce state spending or improve Hawaii’s economy for the benefit of all, we at the Grassroot Institute remain eager to help.

This commentary was Keli‘i Akina’s weekly “President’s Corner” column for June 17, 2023. If you would like to have his columns emailed to you on a regular basis, please call 808-864-1776 or email info@grassrootinstitute.org.

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