Report: Hawaii Ranks Among Worst In County for State Budget Health

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Photo: Emily Metcalf

BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – Yet another national study ranks Hawaii among the worst in the country.

This time State Budget Solutions in its analysis of state budget trends during the past decade – reports that Hawaii is number 47 out of all 50 states in the “total of the state expenditures in a given fiscal year encompassing all state funds.”


The group, a nonprofit organization promoting fundamental reform of state budgets, includes trust funds, bond funds, and transportation budgets in this review.

These funds are separate from the state’s general fund budget, which tracks one segment of state expenditures, and typically includes, as it does in Hawaii, funding for departments of education, human services, healthcare and more.

“Our goal at State Budget Solutions is to explain just how states ended up where they are today, debunk the various myths and find real solutions for states to achieve fiscal responsibility,” said Bob Williams, President of State Budget Solutions.  “Scoring in the bottom of this ranking is a good indicator of the general health of the Hawaii’s budget. It is imperative for elected officials in Hawaii to examine their other rankings in our research and grasp the full reality of their current budget situation.”

Kalbert Young, director of Budget & Finance for the state of Hawaii, said the state does grasp how serious Hawaii’s financial troubles are and are taking steps to better Hawaii’s financial health.

Young added “While these types of surveys and rankings are worthy of consideration because they help gauge states’ conditions relative to other states, I would counter that the details that distinguish financial operations of states is more important to recognize, but rarely identified by analysts.”

Young said for example, many of the metrics that are employed fail to recognize or account for Hawaii paying for primary education operations (DoE), capital construction for those schools, prison systems operations and capital, etc.  At the State level, the majority of states have these expenses at the municipal, county or district levels and therefore these expenses are not considered in the ranking.”

During the organization’s extensive review, researchers examined both the general funds and total funds of each state for every year in the past 10 years.

They also reviewed how states have managed their money both in growth and recession.

States were ranked on their general fund surplus, per capita general spending increases and per capita total spending.

State Budget Solutions’ study also ranked the ten best and worst
states for both general fund and total fund budgeting. The top and
bottom ten for total fund budgeting included:

Ten Best States:

  • Wyoming    21.56%
  • North Dakota    14.39%
  • West Virginia    6.16%
  • Texas    5.15%
  • Alaska    5.09%
  • Montana    5.03%
  • Nebraska    4.21%
  • Idaho    2.78%
  • Louisiana    2.71%
  • Massachusetts    2.54%


Ten Worst States:

  • 41.  New Mexico    -6.38%
    42.  Washington    -7.06%
    43.  Pennsylvania    -7.65%
    44.  Colorado    -7.73%
    45.  South Carolina    -7.91%
    46.  California    -8.35%
    47.  Hawaii    -9.20%
    48.  Ohio    -11.25%
    49.  Oregon    -12.42%
    50.  Wisconsin    -29.14%

To see the total list of rankings click here.

“State Budget Solutions is hopeful that state legislatures will look at these numbers and begin take responsibility for their budget crisis. We can no longer afford to have states manipulate their budget and ignore their out-of-control spending habits, which is only sinking them deeper into debt,” said Williams.

Young said:  “… I do agree that the financial health of the State needs improvement.  Proactively improving the fiscal and financial condition is what the Abercrombie Administration has been focusing on.  With the goal of addressing many of the financial problems, the strategy is to resolve structural matters  (which are the root cause of these problems) rather than only pursuing short-term strategies.”