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Hawaii lawmakers fund health agency reorganization

Anita Hofschneider, Associated Press

HONOLULU (AP) -- Hawaii lawmakers are taking small steps toward shaping the state's multi-billion-dollar biennial budget.

A conference committee made up of senators and representatives met Monday to announce the latest agreements in ongoing budget negotiations.

Although Monday is the first day conference committees are scheduled to meet, the group started meeting last week to get a head start on negotiations.

Sen. David Ige, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, said Monday's budget appropriations were mainly administrative.

He noted that lawmakers decided to meet Gov. Neil Abercrombie's request to fund the reorganization of the state Department of Health by approving the transfer of money between programs.

Rep. Sylvia Luke, chairwoman of the House Finance Committee, said during that hearing that lawmakers still have a lot of questions about whether the reorganization is feasible but want to give the Health Department the chance to prove itself.

The committee also decided to set aside about $800,000 to help children with disabilities on Maui.

In addition, the committee announced funding for some aspects of the lieutenant governor's office and the Department of Transportation. That includes money for highways, harbors and airports.

Ige said lawmakers are still debating more contested items such as Gov. Neil Abercrombie's proposed preschool program. The program has Senate support but didn't receive any funding in the House's version of the budget.

Despite the Senate's approval of more than $26 million to fund the program earlier this session, Ige said he's willing to negotiate.

"Once you get to conference, if there's no agreement, it's zero," he explained.