(BIVN) – The Hawaii County Mayor’s legislative package – a $155 million appropriation request for Kīlauea Volcano eruption disaster relief and recovery – has been submitted to the state legislature, but not before some confusion about who would be making the request and how it will impact the state budget.
House Bill 184 and Senate Bill 166 have been introduced as the 2019 legislative session gets underway. The County’s request was explained to the Hawaiʻi County Council during a meeting in Hilo on January 8.
The first section of the companion bills explains the severity of the disaster and describes the need for state assistance.
Eruption-related impacts and losses are extensive. Over eight thousand acres were inundated by lava tens of feet thick, covering entire neighborhoods, farms, a school, cultural sites, recreational destinations, roadways, water systems, and large portions of the electrical grid. The eruption was centered in the heart of the most socio-economically vulnerable communities, pushing many households deeper into poverty and destroying what little wealth had been accumulated. More than seven hundred homes were destroyed, totaling over $100,000,000 in property losses. Over three thousand parcels were destroyed or made inaccessible, translating to $4,000,000 in annual county real property tax revenue losses. A thirty-eight megawatt geothermal power plant shut down and was isolated, resulting in the loss of one-third of the county’s power production and half of its renewable energy portfolio. Economic impacts are in the hundreds of millions of dollars, including an unprecedented one hundred thirty-four day closure of Hawaii volcanoes national park, the county’s largest tourist attraction and economic engine, and an estimated $27,900,000 in lost papaya, nursery, orchid, vegetable, and tree crops.
The scale of the recovery exceeds the county’s capacity. As a rural county with the lowest average per capita income in the State, the county’s $500,000,000 annual operating budget has been stretched to its limit with the $4,000,000 annual revenue loss from the inundated properties, the depletion of disaster response reserves for overtime and expenses incurred to respond to the disaster, and the looming bargaining unit salary and benefit increases beyond the county’s control. Even with federal disaster assistance, the county will need additional assistance to provide the local match to federal funding and to address recovery needs beyond what federal programs cover.
One week ago, a top state administration official and members of the State Senate Ways and Means Committee were unclear on how the Big Island’s “big ask” was going to proceed.
“It’s not something that will be done in the next two or three years,” Ford Fuchigami, the governor’s administrative director, said about the recovery process, adding that he thinks it “will be at the minimal would say five years.”
According to State Senate Ways and Means Chair Donovan Dela Cruz, the governor said in November that he plans to push for lava relief funding by introducing a bill this session. “So how much is that gonna cost?” asked Sen. Dela Cruz”
“We have not introduced that bill,” Fuchigami said. “We worked with Hawaiʻi County. We asked them to get us a bill so that we could submit on their behalf. Unfortunately, by the time the budget came around and we were ready to submit, they didn’t get anything to us.”
“I’m being told that through some of the senators and some of the representatives, Hawaiʻi will be introducing their own bill,” Fushigami said at the January 11 meeting. “Of course we will support it.”
“You’re gonna support it with what, telling us where to cut?” laughed Sen. Dela Cruz.
“Whoever introduces the bill, obviously, is gonna look at where we can get the money,” Fuchigami said.
“No, no, no. I don’t think that’s helpful,” the Ways and Means chair laughed again.
“I have been working with Hawaiʻi Island since the lava started, in terms of what the recovery is,” Fuchigami said. “It has been literally been all over the board. All I know is that during this time period, Hawaiʻi Island asked for a special session. I was asked to see if I can get them enough money so that they didn’t have to have a special session.”
“I took some of the Act 12 money, I gave Hawaiʻi Island enough money to get to now,” Fuchigami continued. “So, now we’re gonna come before the legislature. I’m told that a bill is gonna be presented. To be honest with you, I haven’t seen the final draft.”
“So how much is that gonna cost us?” asked Sen. Dela Cruz.
“I was originally told $150 million dollars, I don’t know if that’s the final number though,” Fuchigami answered.
“That’s a lot of money to find,” the Ways and Means Chair said.