By Wendy Osher
State lawmakers last night agreed to use the state general fund to support agricultural inspector positions, rather than using a special fund to supplement the associated costs. Lawmakers say the move is expected to free up more funds for invasive species control.
The House Finance and Senate Ways and Means conferees reached the agreement last night.
Currently, 20 inspector positions at airports and harbors on Oahu, Kauai, Maui and Hawaii Island, are funded through the Pest Inspection, Quarantine and Eradication Special Fund.
Money in that fund is traditionally used for invasive species programs, but has been tapped in recent years to fund the agriculture inspectors due to the downturn in the economy and the state’s limited resources.
“The struggle to fund agriculture inspectors in order to stop invasive species from entering the state has been on-going for several years,” said Rep. Clift Tsuji, who chairs the House Committee on Agriculture. “I’m very pleased that my colleagues on the money committees recognized the urgency to support agriculture inspection and fight invasive species in a reliable and responsible manner. This is good news for the protection of Hawaii’s precious natural resources,” he said.
In addition, the conferees also agreed to use general funds to support nine agriculture inspector positions at Kahului Airport on Maui, that are currently funded through the Department of Transportation using Federal Aviation Administration monies that will be discontinued at the end of this fiscal year.
The budget bill, HB2012, must now clear the conference committee, pass a final floor vote in both House and Senate, and if passed, will be sent to the governor for signing.