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Budget committee chair seeks longer-term solutions within Blangiardi's $4.5B proposal

honolulu hale
Sandee Oshiro
The Blangiardi administration is proposing a $3.4 billion operating budget and a $1.09 billion Capitol Improvement Plan budget. Both are roughly a 6% increase from the previous year.

Affordable housing, homelessness, public safety and public transportation are just some of the key topics highlighted in Mayor Rick Blangiardi's Fiscal Year 2024 budget.

"We are now coming into our own as an administration," said Blangiardi. "This budget is reflective of our top priorities with respect to people, housing and public safety in a very difficult economic climate."

The Blangiardi administration is proposing a $3.4 billion operating budget and a $1.09 billion Capitol Improvement Plan budget. Both are roughly a 6% increase from the previous year.

That includes $45.5 million for a one-time $300 tax credit to homeowners receiving an active homeowner exemption from the city.

"Of course that $300 is a viable proposal," said Councilmember Radiant Cordero, who chairs the city's budget committee.

"I do believe that there are proposals for the past few years about longer-term solutions, such as Bill 37 and 38 — all introduced by Councilmember Kiaʻāina."

Bills 37 and 38 lower the eligibility requirements for households to receive real property tax credits from the city. Both are based on income, with Bill 38 aligning more with the U.S. Housing and Urban Development's Area Medium Income for 80%.

"I know that it may be difficult for the city administration to implement... Sometimes it's hard to change systems up," said Cordero. "But if the systems and how we do things end up helping our neighbors in the long run — why not try it?"

The largest expenditures in the proposed operating budget are city employee salaries, benefits and retirement and the city's debt service.

Public safety is the third largest expense, making up 17% of the administration's request. Followed by public transportation at $411 million.

radiant cordero city council.jfif
Honolulu City Council
Radiant Cordero, representative for Kalihi, lwilei, Kalihi Kai, Mapunapuna, Salt Lake, Aliamanu, Hickam, Foster Village, Ford Island and Sand Island

City officials say interim service for rail should begin this summer — with an expected operating and maintenance cost of $85 million. Budget and fiscal services director Andy Kawano said the rail costs have been budgeted in previous years, but the funds haven't been used yet.

The Blangiardi administration also has plans to develop more affordable housing in partnership with the state.

"For the first time, actually, we have a proposal for a broad base capital improvements appropriation of $100 million to help fund the acquisition, development, the construction of more housing units on our island," Kawano said.

In addition to affordable housing, the administration is also highlighting its efforts to address homelessness. The proposed operating budget includes $10.2 million to continue the city's Housing First initiative, and $1.4 million in rental subsidies to serve approximately 100 individuals.

However, Cordero believes there should be more focus on infrastructure to support the administration's and city council's efforts to promote affordable housing construction.

"I think our city infrastructure really needs to be up to par, or better, to support all the things that we need to build," Cordero said.

"If we are building on things that don't support affordable housing units, then we won't have a lot of places that we can put affordable housing units," she said.

In addition to infrastructure, Cordero told HPR she also wants to know more about the administration's efforts to support the city's Department of Planning and Permitting, which has tried to streamline its permitting process to address its months-long backlog.

"We know we're going to be dealing with transient vacation rentals, as well as new divisions within DPP," she said.

Blangiardi is expected to provide more details on his efforts and budget during his State of the City address on March 14 at 11 a.m.

Casey Harlow is an HPR reporter and occasionally fills in as local host of Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Contact him at charlow@hawaiipublicradio.org or on Twitter (@CaseyHarlow).
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