Some of Sen. David Ige's colleagues are calling into question Gov. Neil Abercrombie's use of a news conference Monday to highlight a $444 million shortfall to the state's construction budget.
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"He really should take a step back and stop pointing fingers," said a state senator who spoke to KITV4 on background. "Clearly, it's just a political ploy by the governor."
Abercrombie and Ige are engaged in a political battle to secure the Democratic nomination for governor, and Ige is chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, which controls all money matters in the Senate.
When asked who's to blame for the accounting error in the state budget that resulted in Monday's news conference, the governor didn't mention Ige by name, but told reporters to "go to the legislature and make an inquiry."
Ige issued a statement Tuesday after KITV4 asked about the governor blaming state lawmakers for the slip-up and whether he thought there was a need for a news conference.
"Last week, we worked with the governor's Department of Budget and Finance and House and Senate leadership to develop a solution for this issue, so yes, I questioned the press conference, but the reason and need for it should be directed to the governor's office," said Ige.
According to Abercrombie's press secretary Justin Fujioka, Monday's news conference was called to shed light on the issue with reporters, who would likely have many questions about the governor's plan to balance the budget by cutting Department of Education funds. "If we didn't do this, we would be getting a lot of calls," he said.
The governor said the budget blunder was the result of a discrepancy between state's capital improvement bill and the bond authorization bill that accompanies it. The dollar amount in both measures is supposed to match, but the bond authorization bill fell $444 million short. To resolve the issue, Abercrombie announced he would allow $399 million in DOE construction funds to lapse on July 1, while using his line-item veto power to cut another $46 million from the DOE's fiscal year 2016 budget. The governor said lawmakers would replace the $46 million during the next legislative session, and did not hide his displeasure when discussing the mistake.
"The budget bill has a column, you add it up. "he bond authorization bill has a column, you add it up, said a clearly annoyed Abercrombie. They're supposed to match. They didn't."
According to an April 25 committee report regarding the budget bill (HB 1700) , lawmakers in both chambers were aware a $399 million appropriation for the DOE needed to be reauthorized. Committee reports are used by lawmakers as they vote up or down on various measures during the legislative session.
On Tuesday, Abercrombie's campaign manager Bill Kaneko issued a statement saying the legislature's budget gaffe falls directly on Ige.
"Sen. Ige can't add," said Kaneko. "As chair of the Senate money committee, he was responsible for the $46 million budget discrepancy. This is a significant error that could jeopardize the State's operations and expenditures."
KITV4 political analyst and University of Hawaii professor Neal Milner said errors in the state budget needed to be brought to be addressed, but Abercrombie may be using the issue to foster doubt about Ige's ability to lead.
"It's something the public should know about, but it's that next step that happened because there's a political campaign," said Milner. "It then becomes an issue about individual competence and about leadership."
On Monday, House Finance Chair Rep. Sylvia Luke defended the budget process and fellow lawmakers in the House and Senate. She said the governor's failure to provide funding for 665 acres of conservation land at Turtle Bay left lawmakers scrambling as the budget was about to close.
"Because of the last-minute request a lot of things had to move," said Luke. "I'm not surprised there was a discrepancy."
Ige has taken credit for securing funding for Turtle Bay conservation plan after announcing he would restructure debt owed on the Hawaii Convention Center. The plan resulted in the $40 million needed by the state to finalize the deal.
Meanwhile, Sen. Sam Slom, the only Senate Republican, said lawmakers in both chambers were well aware of the need to reauthorize $399 million in DOE construction funds. Slom holds no allegiances to either Abercrombie or Ige and will vote for fellow Republican Duke Aiona in the governor's race.
"We were all aware," Slom said of issues with the budget. "I was the only one in the legislature that spoke out and voted against it, and what I said at the time was there are unconstitutional provisions here."