By B.J. Reyes
Hawaii lawmakers braced for a future with little to no federal dollars as Republicans in the U.S. House pushed through their budget proposal for the nation, cutting $6.2 trillion from yearly federal deficits through the next 10 years while gutting food stamps, Medicaid and other safety net programs.
"To a great extent, the states seem to be on their own," said state Rep. Marcus Oshiro (D, Wahiawa-Poamoho), House Finance chairman. "If the federal government is serious about adjusting the federal deficit in the areas of Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, debt service, defense spending -- the big components -- then it's going to have a big impact upon the states."
The GOP budget passed 235-193 yesterday with every Democrat voting no.
"Our budget is supposed to be a reflection of our values," U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, D-Hawaii, said in a statement. "This Republican plan has the wrong priorities."
Also yesterday President Barack Obama signed the spending bill that averted a government shutdown but came with $38 billion in cuts. U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, said the continuing resolution to fund government through the end of the 2011 fiscal year would have too adverse an effect on Hawaii and across the country.
"What is most alarming about this compromise bill is that it asks working- and middle-class Americans to bear the brunt of the budget cuts without asking the wealthiest Americans to do the same," Hirono said on the House floor. "Where is the shared sacrifice? Where is the aloha?"
One specific area targeted by the continuing resolution was environmental protection, Hirono said, noting it cuts almost $1 billion for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund. Hawaii's Clean Water State Revolving Fund would be reduced by $4.4 million, she said.
"Access to clean water should be one of our highest priorities, as it is one of the most basic needs of all of our people," she said.
Hawaii Democrats expressed greater concern about the overall GOP budget proposal mandating federal deficits requiring the government to borrow more than 40 cents for every dollar spent would be cut by the end of the decade to 8 cents for every dollar spent.
"A nation, a business, a family can't live on 40 percent of its budget being borrowed," Hawaii House Minority Leader Gene Ward (R, Kalama Valley-Hawaii Kai) said in defense of congressional Republicans. "We have to change the trend line. We've got to turn the ship of state away from a debtor nation."
The GOP blueprint would cut almost $800 million from the federal-state Medicaid program.
Hanabusa called it unfair to turn Medicaid into a block grant program, saying it would transfer the burden of a federal program to the states. An estimated 84,000 Hawaii residents would be cut off from Medicaid under the Republican budget plan, she said.
"There are ways to make substantial cuts to tackle the deficit without breaking promises to seniors."
As state House and Senate lawmakers head into conference committee to work out the biennium budget, Oshiro said the state "should not expect nor wait for much federal assistance, if any."
"Health and human services, education, environmental protection services, telecommunications, broadband, waste water, you name it," he said. "There are going to be some big changes."