The economic meltdown that began in the summer of 2007 lurches now into 2010, with no end in sight. A well-publicized decision by Legislative leaders to scale back today’s opening ceremonies was intended as a sign that leaders understand and respect the struggles Hawaii residents face. A good start, if you like these sorts of gestures. Either way, pupu and parties are going to be the easiest cuts of the year for a Legislative session tasked with cutting as deep into government services as any in a generation.
Projected budget cap for the current fiscal year: $509.5 million.
Projected gap for fiscal 2011, which begins July 1: $721 million.
According to projections included in Gov. Linda Lingle’s recent supplemental budget, general tax fund revenues in the current fiscal year will be a full 12 percent lower than in 2008.
Here’s the thing to understand about that gap: it is enormous. Despite hundreds of millions of dollars already saved by slashing every conceivable government service and program, and despite the implementation of the shortest-known school year in the industrialized world, Hawaii is still facing a budget gap of more than 10 percent for the coming fiscal year. We haven’t closed libraries, laid off critical staff and sent our students into the streets to balance the books–we’ve done it to get within $1 billion of balancing them.
There has been some clamoring on the left, particularly in and around Manoa, that the state’s budget woes are a bit of a mirage, part of a plot by our outgoing Republican governor to finally implement her desire to slash the size of state government. In blogs and at rallies, we’ve heard that the governor is playing a shell game with the budget, that there is, for example, plenty of money to give the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly its scheduled pay increase.
UHPA finally faced the music over the weekend, which was a good sign, because its tone was increasingly reminiscent of the “Gov. Cayetano hates UH because he went to UCLA” nonsense that paralyzed us back in the 1990s.
The fiscal crisis is real. Forty-eight out of 50 states face critical budget gaps this year. The national economy may or may not be out of its free-fall, but it sure isn’t bouncing back.
As legislators–and the governor–make extremely tough choices this session about how to cut and where, we’d all do well to remember that.