Gov. David Ige wants to nearly double the amount of money the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands receives from the state each year.
If approved, the department’s budget would go from $9.6 million to $17.14 million for fiscal year 2016, then jump to $23.5 million in fiscal year 2017.
Funding would be at its highest levels ever for DHHL. The money would fund 48 vacant positions and add 28 new ones, as well as help tens of thousands of people on the department’s wait list.
Rep. Lynn DeCoite, D, East Maui, Molokai, Lanai, introduced House Bill 1932.
“It’s a huge step in the right direction,” she said. “We’re looking at just having a phone call answered and then returned. We’re looking at issues of the wait list on having these positions staffed properly right now. That in and of itself is a huge move in the right direction.”
“The Department of Hawaiian Home Lands will capitalize on this momentum as we continue to work with the Legislature to close the gap before the end of this legislative session,” said Jobie Masagatani, Hawaiian Homes Commission Chairman and Director of the DHHL.
The governor’s office says the bill is in direct response to a legal challenge, Nelson vs. Hawaiian Homes Commission.
The judge ruled that the state has to adequately fund the DHHL by appropriating more than $28.4 million in general funds for administrative and operating expenses in fiscal year 2015-16, as mandated by Article XII, Section 1 of the Hawaii State Constitution.
At least one lawmaker isn’t happy with the announcement.
Rep. Gene Ward, R, Hawaii Kai, Kalama Valley, says the increase falls significantly short of that constitutionally mandated $28.4 million.
“The $17 million proposed by the Governor just doesn’t cut it, even when he adds a few more million for fringe benefits,” Ward said. “Fulfilling this promise to the Hawaiians has been dismal, embarrassing, and unfair.”
There’s also another legal case that would require the state to provide the department with $28 million per year.