In Push to Cut State Budget, Lingle Deals Crushing Blow to Environment Programs

posted in: March 2010 | 0
Almost daily, the reading public in Hawai`i learns of drastic cuts to the biggest social programs in state government – programs dealing with health care, education, social services. Unheralded in the press are the punishing blows that are being dealt to programs that account for just a tiny fraction of state spending – those dealing with environmental protection and conservation of natural resources. These programs, while small, are every bit as important to the state’s economic recovery as are those that capture the headlines. Yet a close analysis of the spending proposals of the Lingle administration shows that environmental programs are suffering in a way that is altogether disproportionate to their small budgetary profile.

For example, the Department of Land and Natural Resources accounts for less than one percent of the state’s general fund expenditures in recent years. The whole department could be abolished, and the state’s deficit would still be more than a billion dollars. But of the 1,990 positions statewide that Governor Lingle is proposing to eliminate, 4 percent comes from the DLNR. As a fraction of the department’s total staff (permanent and temporary workers), the cuts proposed for the fiscal year 2011 amount to 10 percent. Total spending by the department is proposed to be reduced 5.5 percent.

The Department of Agriculture took an even bigger hit. It lost 10 percent of its budget – from $40 million to $36 million. And whereas it has 389.25 authorized permanent and temporary positions in the current fiscal year, it is down to 290.25 for FY 2011, a blow of more than 25 percent. To put it another way, 5 percent of the total personnel losses proposed by Lingle come from a department that employed just eight-tenths of one percent of the total number of state workers to start with. Thirty-eight of the permanent positions cut come from the staff of the Plant Pest and Disease Control program – the state’s first line of defense against invasive species. It has been proposed for a reduction from 134 to 96.

Last year, the Legislature approved a two-year budget for the current year and next. The spending level for the operational budget for each of the two years is roughly $10.5 billion, almost exactly half of which comes from the general fund. To address the state’s worsening financial situation, for fiscal year 2011, Lingle is proposing cuts of $378 million, all but $30 million of which would be in general fund reductions.

As a percentage of the total state budget, the fraction that goes toward environmental protection is minuscule, in the best of times. The entire budgets of the departments of Land and Natural Resources and Agriculture – including many non-environmental programs, such as the DOA’s Measurement Standards Branch and the DLNR’s Bureau of Conveyances – together amount to less than 1.5 percent of the state’s operating budget. Even if one adds in the Department of Health’s environmental protection programs (excluding special and revolving funds) and the planning function of the Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism, the amount still comes to less than 2 percent of overall operational spending.
By contrast, under Lingle’s budget revisions, DBEDT will see an increase of nearly $50 million – or, to put it in perspective, more than the entire operational budget of the DOA and half that of the DLNR. To be fair, some $17 million of that is simply the transfer of the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawai`i Authority (NELHA) back to DBEDT from the Department of Accounting and General Services. (In 2009, contrary to Lingle’s wishes, the Legislature moved NELHA to DAGS from DBEDT. Her supplemental budget for 2011 puts NELHA back under DBEDT’s umbrella.) Also, DBEDT is anticipating the receipt of $26.5 million in federal stimulus fund not included in the 2011 budget passed by the Legislature.

Environmental Losses

Department-wide figures do not always give an accurate picture of the losses, since many of the programs within the DLNR and DOA, to say nothing of Health and DBEDT, do not directly address environmental quality issues.

Within the DLNR, the following programs are proposed for some dramatic curbs in authorized staff levels:

    • State Parks, 19 permanent positions lost, or 15 percent (from 128 to 109);
    • Division of Forestry and Wildlife, seven, or 5 percent (from 146 to 139);
    • State Commission on Water Resource Management, four of 24, or 16 percent;
    Conservation and Resources Enforcement, of 144 permanent posts, eight lost, or 5.5 percent.

By the DLNR’s own accounting, the environmental protection component of its budget under Lingle’s plan will lose $2 million from the previously authorized spending level of nearly $40 million. Programs the DLNR categorizes as dealing with culture and recreation are proposed for cuts of nearly 10 percent, from roughly $38 million to $34.5 million.

A substantial fraction of the DLNR’s budget – around 17 percent – comes from the federal government, which underwrites much of the department’s work to protect endangered species. As a result of the cutbacks, the state is losing funds that are required to match some of the federal dollars. Altogether, nearly half a million dollars in federal funds to the DLNR will be lost under Lingle’s plan.

The Department of Agriculture’s quarantine program plays a vital role as gatekeeper in protecting the state against the introduction, deliberate or accidental, of potentially invasive species of plants and animals. Yet the permanent staffing for this branch is proposed to be slashed by 28 percent – from 109 positions to 79. This is in addition to 24 furlough days in FY 2011 for the remaining staff.

The DOA’s pesticides branch is another program that plays an important role in protecting environmental quality. Its total budget for 2010 was just over $2 million. This is the branch that ensures that pesticide applicators are properly trained and qualified and that stores do not sell unregistered products. Yet this program is proposed for a cut of 28 percent in its permanent personnel – from 21 to 16.

Health in Question

The Department of Health has responsibility for pollution control, administering federal programs such as the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, and overseeing management of solid and hazardous waste and Superfund sites. The state Office of Environmental Quality Control is housed within the department as well. It is responsible for ensuring that the state’s environmental disclosure law, Chapter 343, is observed by other government agencies as well as private developers. Other functions that have a direct bearing on environmental quality include the state laboratory and the vector control branch.

The OEQC has not lost any staff to the Lingle cuts this year – probably because, with just five positions, it had already been pared to the bone. However, as thin as its staff is, the OEQC will experience furlough days that result in a savings of just over $27,000 in its budget of $343,089.

Proposed cuts to the budget of the environmental health administration include a loss of five permanent positions (from 44 previously authorized) and savings from furlough days of nearly $200,000. According to the DOH, the cuts will affect the department’s ability to respond to environmental hazards, while its capability to respond to oil spills and hazardous materials incidents will be halved. In addition, “land use coordination and comments for development documents will be delayed and there will be an absence of state funded planning and legislative functions due to abolishment of positions.”

Environmental health services will suffer a loss of 39 positions (from 152, or 26 percent), and a reduction in operating funds of $2 million, to $6.8 million. All but three of the positions cut will be taken from the Vector Control Branch. The DOH writes: “It is expected that … vector-borne illness may increase due to major reductions in staff and resources related to the 36 positions” lost. Not just humans will suffer; many of the same animals that carry human diseases transmit diseases to Hawai`i’s native animals as well.

The state laboratory also comes in for reductions – 10 permanent staff, and $824,000. Already, the DOH narrative states, “cuts impeded or prevented testing and quality management required by federal Clean Air and the federal Clean Water Act…. Anticipate degradation of capabilities, capacity and quality of the state Laboratory Services program, which provides chemical and microbiological support services to the Department of Health’s environmental and disease control programs, other state agencies and the public.”

Then there is the DOH’s environmental management program, which includes all of its major environmental control programs relating to clean air and water, wastewater, drinking water, and solid and hazardous waste. Altogether, this program comes in for a 10 percent cut in its personnel (from 218 to 196). The loss of seven positions in the Clean Water Branch, says the DOH, “will result in the suspension of, or extremely reduced sampling of O`ahu’s beaches for water quality.” Other staff reductions will cause delays in the processing of permits to discharge into streams and the ocean – a factor that may be expected to dramatically impair the ability of construction projects associated with federal stimulus money to move forward in timely fashion. And as counties strive to expand their solid waste facilities, the DOH says, the reduction in staff at the Solid and Hazardous Waste Branch “will have significant delays in the review, approval, and inspections of solid waste facilities throughout the state.”

In total, the DOH’s environmental programs are proposed to be reduced from an authorized level of 501 permanent full-time staff to 425, for a cut of 15 percent.

Cuts in Planning

Two agencies within the Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism are charged with carrying out Hawai`i’s land use law, Chapter 205. They are the Office of Planning, which includes the state component of the federal Coastal Zone Management program, and the Land Use Commission. Under Lingle’s proposed budget, the planning office’s permanent staff would be cut by five positions – from 20 to 15 – while it would also lose a temporary full-time worker. The LUC staff would be cut by one – from 6 to 5.

DBEDT also manages the state’s energy program, which is about the only environmental area to have escaped the Lingle hatchet. That program, housed within the strategic industries branch of the department, would actually see general-funded personnel grow: Lingle is proposing to transfer five positions paid with federal funds to the general fund column, since the federal funds are expected to be depleted in 2011.


Patricia Tummons


Volume 20, Number 9 — March 2010


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *