• Associated Press

Hawaii Governor’s First Budget after Maui Wildfire Includes Funds for Recovery and Fire Prevention

AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson
Wilted palm trees line a destroyed property, Friday, Dec. 8, 2023, in Lahaina, Hawaii.

HONOLULU (AP) — Hawaii Gov. Josh Green on Monday said he was requesting $425 million from lawmakers during the next fiscal year to help Maui recover from August’s wildfires — and millions more to reduce the risk of wildfires statewide.

The proposed budget is Green’s first since a fast-moving wildfire killed at least 100 people and destroyed Maui’s historic town of Lahaina on Aug. 8.

“We took to heart our need to care for those who lost everything on Maui. We’re going to make them whole. We’re going to help them survive,” Green said at a news conference.

The blaze displaced about 12,000 people, half of whom are still living in hotels due to a severe housing shortage on the island.

Wildfires have long been relatively rare in Hawaii, which is better known for a lush landscape of rainforests and waterfalls. But climate change has increased the frequency and intensity of droughts, raising the risk of wildfires on the islands.

The federal government is covering the expenses for much of Lahaina’s clean-up and emergency housing. Green said that while it will cost more than $5 billion to recover from the fire, the state’s share will be about $500 million.

The governor’s proposals are for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Lawmakers will consider the proposals when they draft the state’s budget during the legislative session set to start on Jan. 17.

The proposals include:

1. $200 million for anticipated Maui insurance claim payments

2. $186 million for other recovery costs as they arise

3. $10 million for fire and emergency response equipment for the state’s Department of Land and Natural Resources, which is responsible for state forests, with $7.4 million to go to the same department for fire response and prevention efforts

4. 20 positions to work on firebreaks, fire assessments and wildfire matters at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency

5. $33 million, mostly from federal funds, to repair and rebuild state highways in Lahaina

In addition to fire response, Green proposed spending $22 million on housing for older adults in Honolulu, $10 million for Hawaii Public Housing Authority building improvements and $30 million in tax breaks for families with children in preschool.

The governor said he didn’t dip into the state’s $1.5 billion rainy day fund. He said this fund, plus at least $500 million surplus expected at the end of the fiscal year, will give the state a cushion. This gives the state a higher credit rating and allows it to float bonds at lower interest rates, Green said.

The tax revenue outlook for Hawaii hasn’t been as bleak as initially feared — even though after the fire, tourism dropped sharply on Maui, which is one of the state’s biggest hubs for visitors.

Carl Bonham, the executive director of the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization, said last week the state has had several months of strong tax revenue growth lately, in large part due to income taxes. Excise tax and transient accommodations tax revenue — both of which are heavily influenced by the number of travelers to the state — have been weak as expected, he said.

The state Council on Revenues, which predicts tax revenue for the governor and Legislature, is scheduled to meet on Jan. 8 to update its forecast.