State House and Senate legislators approved a two-year operating budget today calling for hundreds of millions of dollars for state employee retirement and health benefits and other monies to address major disasters, fight invasive species and maintain highways.
The budget approval comes about a month earlier than usual in the legislative session. In a news release, House Finance Chair Sylvia Luke attributed the timing to a new budget process that she said should allow lawmakers to turn to other pressing issues.
Funding for the state's capital improvement projects will be negotiated later as will relief for the Big Island lava damage that followed the eruption of Kilauea's East Rift Zone in May 2018.
Lawmakers gave priority to staffing the new Hawaiʻi State Hospital forensic psychiatric building in Kaneohe. Twelve positions will be created in the first year of the budget and 127 additional jobs in the second year. Other funding priorities include 53 new positions for the Honolulu International Airportʻs mauka concourse and $7.7 million over two years for Kahului International Airport.
Some of the largest expenditures -- $67.8 million in the first year and $62.2 million in the second -- will pay off debt service on the financing of state infrastructure and capital projects.
But even larger sums will go toward retirement benefits payments for state employees: $161 million in fiscal 2020 and $267.2 million in the following year. Another $814.6 million has been budgeted for other post-employment benefits in the first year and $847.6 million in the second year. And employee health premiums will be funded to the tune of $51 million in the initial year and $57.3 million in the following year.
More funding details are provided in the budget measure, H.B. 2, C.D. 1.