FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 25, 2002
Rep. Marcus Oshiro
REP. MARCUS OSHIRO: KEEP BUDGET OPTIONS OPEN
The leader of the House Democratic Majority, Rep. Marcus Oshiro, said today that the Legislature must not foreclose any options to balance the budget unless the public is willing to give up some critical State services.
The Wahiawa legislator made his comments after today's Finance Committee hearing where various State and county agencies testified that services would be cut or greatly reduced if the Legislature imposes a 5 percent spending cut, denies all supplemental year budget requests, and abolishes 50 percent of vacant positions.
"As a former prosecuting attorney, I was greatly disturbed by testimony from law enforcement officials that we will no longer be able to effectively prosecute criminals because the cuts will curtail victim/witness assistance programs," Oshiro said.
The Honolulu City Prosecuting Attorney's Office testified that services for crime victims are essential and "form the cornerstone of criminal justice." Similar testimony was given by prosecuting attorneys from Kauai and the Big Island.
Another area of concern was the testimony of the State Department of Health. Oshiro said the department testified that the request to eliminate 50 percent of vacant positions could impact court-ordered mandates for special education, adult mental health, and developmental disabilities. The other choice, according to the department, would be to take from areas not under court decrees such as services to women, children, the elderly, and the uninsured.
"This is a very serious situation," Oshiro said. "We certainly don't want to jeopardize the progress we've made in areas like the Felix Consent Decree on special education. Nor do we want to put the burden on the most vulnerable and needy members of society."
Other testifiers told the Finance Committee to use the Hawaii Hurricane Relief Fund to balance to budget rather than cut essential services or eliminate needed programs.
The Good Beginnings Alliance said a portion of the Hurricane Fund should be transferred to the general treasury rather than cutting early childhood services or pre-school programs.
The State Attorney General urged lawmakers to use the entire fund to help balance the budget.
Oshiro said after hearing today's testimony, he will ask House Democrats to keep all budget options open. "There are no easy answers, but we are relatively early in the process. We still believe in protecting the integrity of the Hurricane Fund, and no one is in favor of raising taxes. But at this point, we must do the responsible thing and look at all of our options."