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Hawaii Legislature unanimously passes $24B budget

Oskar Garcia, Associated Press

HONOLULU (AP) -- Both chambers of the Hawaii Legislature on Tuesday unanimously passed a $23.8 billion biennium budget, sending the bill to fund state operations to Gov. Neil Abercrombie for final approval.

Abercrombie's spokeswoman immediately praised the move, saying the governor was pleased with the unanimous vote.

The plan falls $262 million shy of what Abercrombie initially proposed. He has line-item veto power.

"This budget will fund several key initiatives, including transforming information technology; addressing unfunded liabilities and watersheds; providing our kupuna with long-term care support and Aging and Disability Resource Centers; and arming our keiki with digital curriculum so they can better compete in the 21st century," Abercrombie spokeswoman Louise Kim McCoy said in a statement emailed to The Associated Press.

The House and Senate voted on the bill early in the day as one of the first items on a marathon agenda of hundreds of bills. One by one, lawmakers in both chambers voiced overwhelming support for different elements of the bill covering infrastructure, education and other state priorities.

Hawaii's legislative session ends Thursday, with lawmakers taking a recess on Wednesday.

The budget covering July 2013 through June 2015 includes more than $217 million to draw down the state's unfunded liabilities, more than $3 billion for capital improvement projects and $130 million in investments in information technology.

Sen. David Ige, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said the budget represents a compromise reached between a conservative approach from the House and a cautious, strategic approach in the Senate.

The unanimous vote included seven Republicans in the 51-member House. The lone Republican on the Senate side, Sen. Sam Slom, voted to approve the bill with reservations.

Slom said that while the budget doesn't raise taxes, the spending levels will need tax hikes in future years in order to be sustained.

"I admire the work that my colleagues have done, I know how hard they work, yet we're moving in the wrong direction," said Slom, who earlier this session proposed an alternative budget. "We continue to make government the focal point of our lives and to pay handsomely for it."

Slom closed his comments with a lighthearted moment, presenting a giant novelty check made out to "Hawaii Taxpayers" for more than $118,000, which he said was savings for state by Slom not using funding for his own Senate office.

"Can you please cash the check and divvy cash?" Senate President Donna Mercado Kim said amid laughs in the chamber.

"The check is in the mail, Madame President," Slom responded.


Oskar Garcia can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/oskargarcia