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Hawaii lawmakers negotiate $23.8B budget proposal

Anita Hofschneider, Associated Press

HONOLULU (AP) -- Hawaii legislators charged with negotiating the state budget have agreed to a $23.8 billion biennium budget proposal that dedicates millions to capital improvement projects, improving information technology infrastructure and drawing down the state's unfunded liabilities.

A committee made up of House and Senate negotiators approved the bill Tuesday evening, along with budgets for the judiciary and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. The bills go next to the House and Senate floors for approval.

Lawmakers say the state budget proposal falls about $262 million short of Gov. Neil Abercrombie's request. The draft does not provide funding for some of Abercrombie's key initiatives, such as his early childhood education proposal and a plan for encouraging entrepreneurship.

Sen. David Ige says that lawmakers have set aside an additional $30 million for these initiatives and others that are still being debated in the Legislature.

Tuesday's budget proposal dedicates more than $3 billion for capital improvement projects, including more than $400 million for school infrastructure repairs.

"You can't have a 21st century school with 20th century electrical wiring," said Rep. Sylvia Luke, chairwoman of the House Finance Committee. Luke says the funding will help nearly every school in the state.

The proposal also includes $1.2 billion for the Department of Transportation to fund improvements for airports, roads, bridges and harbors, and sets aside tens of millions for hospitals.

The budget further appropriates more than $130 million to update the state's aging information technology infrastructure.

Lawmakers also noted that the proposal provides millions in funding for Medicaid, nonprofits and watershed preservation.

The committee also decided to fund the charter school commission, a center dedicated to President Barack Obama, and the expansion of foster care services for people up to the age of 21.

Lawmakers previously announced that the proposal removes funding for about 200 vacant state positions to increase transparency and accountability of state department budgets. They have also said that the draft sets aside $15 million to make up for federal budget cuts and dedicates more than $217 million to draw down the state's unfunded liabilities for employee health benefits.