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Coronavirus Top Of Mind As Honolulu Budget Committee Begins Review Of Caldwell's Budget Plan

Casey Harlow / HPR
Council Budget Chair Joey Manahan gave his initial thoughts on Mayor Caldwell's budget proposal on March 3, 2020.

A Honolulu City Council committee kicks off a review of Mayor Kirk Caldwell's multi-billion dollar budget plan on Thursday as the threat of the coronavirus pandemic looms. Caldwell is proposing a $2.98 billion operating budget and $1.27 billion capital improvements budget for fiscal year 2021.

Caldwell unveiled his budget proposal last week, focusing on improving infrastructure and helping the homeless. The plan also includes $71 million in funding for operations and maintenance of the rail line, which is scheduled to begin service at the end of this year.

The council's budget committee will be reviewing Caldwell's spending proposal over the next two to three days. 

"This is a time where they're going to come in, and they brief us," said Council Budget Chair Joey Manahan. "It's the time when we can ask our questions on things we appropriated for them in last year's budget – to see how those programs are going. 

"It also is our opportunity to see what they're outlining, in terms of spending priorities."

Manahan said the meetings are open forums, where councilmembers and department heads can discuss issues candidly.

Recent events will likely be raised as well. Manahan said he is concerned about the potential economic impact from the coronavirus. He expects the city will see a financial impact sometime next year.

"One of the things I'm concerned about is if we don't keep pace, like the visitor industry doesn't keep on pace, then what happens to rail?"

The $9 billion rail project depends on revenue from both the general excise and transient accommodations tax and rail construction is continuing, Manahan said.

"If there's a slowdown in tourism or in the global market, certainly that has an impact on the city," he said.

The administration may also get questions from the council on plans to earmark $43.9 million in capital funding for a phased development of the Neal S. Blaisdell Center. 

The mayor had earlier suspended renovations to the aging facility, citing rail costs and the upcoming city elections. But he said in rolling out his budget plan that his administration never intended to step away from the project. Rather, officials recognized it could not be done all at once.

The full council will also be holding a special meeting Friday to discuss Bill 35. Manahan says the measure would add emergencies like the coronavirus as reasons to tap into the city's rainy day fund.

The council will typically hold department budget briefings through March. Public hearings on the budget plans, any revenue measures or proposed changes in the real property tax rates are then held in April.

By June 15, the council will need to approve the operating and CIP budgets. The mayor has 10 days after that to approve the budget proposals, return them unsigned or veto them in whole or in part. 

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