HONLULU — The head of the state agriculture department said Wednesday she’s located funds to cut in half the number of agriculture inspectors who may be laid off because of the state’s budget crisis.
The Lingle administration plans to use money from a new user fee that the governor tried to veto two years ago.
In August, the state notified 50 agriculture inspectors they could be laid off — that’s two-thirds of the staff who check Christmas Trees and incoming produce for invasive pests like snakes and insects.
The farming industry is upset, because a lack of inspectors will slow down outgoing shipments of everything from corn seed to fish grown in aquaculture operations.
The Chairperson of the State Agriculture Department said she plans to use money from two funds to cut the amount of layoffs in half to 25 inspectors.
"That would give us some breathing room as we continue to look for more funds and at least to stave off the initial layoffs during this period," said state agriculture chairwoman Sandra Kunimoto.
Kunimoto told legislators the layoffs could save as much as $5.9 million prompting a rebuke from State House Speaker Calvin Say.
"If 90 percent of our commodities are imported, you should have fought to preserve the 5.9 and look at other departments that the administration could look at," Say said.
Kunimoto wants to use $1.3 million from a new pest inspection fund to decrease the number of layoffs.
In 2007, Kunimoto’s boss — Gov. Linda Lingle — vetoed creation of the pest inspection fee, that’s charged on every container that comes into the state to help pay for inspections, but the legislature overrode Lingle’s veto.
The head of the farm bureau said any reduction in inspectors will hurt farmers and businesses.
"By doing these cuts now we’re going to pay in the long run because the more invasive that comes in the more millions of dollars we have to spend to eradicate," said Dean Okimoto, with the Hawaii Farm Bureau.