- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 21, 2015

HONOLULU (AP) - Lawmakers from Hawaii’s House and Senate have begun negotiating how the state will spend its $26.3 billion budget over the next two years.

Members of the House Committee on Finance and Senate Committee on Ways and Means held their first in a series of conference committee meetings on Tuesday, and announced parts of the budget where they were able to reach agreement. But most major decisions will be brokered over the next two weeks.

“We were able to at least come to an agreement on some of the easier items at this point, and we have other tough negotiations ahead,” said Rep. Sylvia Luke, chairman of the House Finance committee.

Both committees agreed to direct $100,000 a year to the lieutenant governor’s office to fund a new position that would enforce a state law which encourages state agencies to post information online.

The committees also agreed to the governor’s request to approve $131,436 to fund two new pesticide surveillance positions over the next two years.

The zipper lane, which recently had a major malfunction causing catastrophic traffic delays, would get an infusion of $921,000 a year.

The committees haven’t yet agreed on how much to spend on major budget items including the University of Hawaii and programs to provide more affordable housing.

The University of Hawaii had requested an additional $34 million, but the House had reduced that amount to zero, and the Senate upped it to more than $6 million per year, said Kalbert Young, vice president for budget and finance for the university. The university is already considering a 7 percent tuition increase next year, and it’s looking at ways to reduce expenses, Young said.

“No doubt that getting less than the amount of requested funding certainly puts more pressure on tuition,” Young said.

For the state’s Housing First program, which provides housing to the most vulnerable chronically homeless individuals, the Senate wants to add $1.9 million in both fiscal years, while the House wants to add $1.5 million in just the first year.

The fate of the Rental Housing Trust Fund, which is used to finance loans to developers to build affordable housing, is also uncertain. Gov. David Ige had requested $100 million for the fund, and the Senate suggested $50 million, but the House did not allocate any money to that item.

The budget covers fiscal years 2016-2017. The conference committee will meet again Friday afternoon.

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