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Hawaii budget draft cuts about 200 state vacancies

Anita Hofschneider, Associated Press

HONOLULU (AP) -- The latest draft of the Hawaii state budget removes funding for about 200 vacant positions in state agencies and sets aside about $15 million to compensate for federal budget cuts.

A committee made up of House and Senate negotiators disclosed their latest funding decisions on Monday evening.

House lawmakers originally proposed removing funding for more than 900 vacant positions. House Finance Committee Chairwoman Sylvia Luke said she wanted to increase transparency and accounting in state agencies, some of which had been holding positions vacant and using the money to pay for overtime and vacation buyouts.

Luke says Monday's decision to remove funding for about 200 positions forces departments to be more fiscally accountable.

Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman David Ige agreed.

"If the departments going to ask for positions, then they ought to fill it," Ige said. "If they're not going to fill it, then we're going to take it."

He added that the reductions save about $7 or $8 million.

The committee set aside $15 million to make up for federal budget cuts. The figure falls about $10 million short of Gov. Neil Abercrombie's request for $25 million.

Lawmakers announced tens of millions in funding for Abercrombie's information technology transformation initiative. Although the funding falls short of Abercrombie's request, Ige says that he believes it goes a long way.

Lawmakers also allocated money for student transportation, collective bargaining agreements and other areas.

The committee did not announce funding for Abercrombie's preschool proposal, which he has called his main legislative priority. Luke says the proposal may not be funded through the budget bill but rather through other bills creating the program that are currently being debated.

The committee plans to meet Tuesday for the last time to address funding for capital improvement projects and budgets for the judiciary and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

This is the last week for negotiations. By Friday, all fiscal bills have to be sent to the House and Senate clerks in their final drafts. The Hawaii legislative session ends next week on May 2.