Lawmakers recess after addressing budget shortfall

HONOLULU — State lawmakers on Thursday recessed after passing multiple funding bills designed to cope with the shock of the coronavirus pandemic that has hammered the state’s tourism-dependent economy.

House and Senate leaders said they expected to reconvene around June 15 to continue their work.

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The legislation allocated federal coronavirus relief funds to Kauai, Maui and Hawaii counties. It also set aside $635 million to the rainy day fund for potential use to shore up the unemployment insurance trust fund that has been rapidly depleted by a surge in newly jobless people receiving unemployment benefits.

To cope with a sharp drop in state tax revenue, lawmakers passed legislation taking money allocated for vacant positions in state government, issuing bonds and the previously existing balance in the rainy day fund. These measures were designed to counter a shortfall lawmakers estimated would amount to some $1 billion.

State Sen. Gil Keith-Agaran, the vice chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, told an online news conference that these actions will allow the state to avoid resorting to furloughs or job cuts to pass a balanced budget.

Another bill authorized a variety of infrastructure projects as a way to support the economy as it tries to recover from the effect of the pandemic.

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Senators passed a resolution awarding a special committee on the coronavirus with subpoena powers. Senate Majority Leader Kalani English said this was so senators “could get documents and get information in a timely manner.”

The current legislative session was originally scheduled to last from Jan. 15 through May 7, but lawmakers suspended the session in mid-March when a senator tested positive for the coronavirus. The reconvened for nine legislative days to address pandemic-related bills on May 11.

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