The National Weather Service Employees Organization on Sunday endorsed U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono for U.S. Senate, citing her opposition to House Republican budget cuts in 2011 that could have diminished operations at facilities such as the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Ewa Beach.
House Republicans voted in February 2011 for more than $60 billion in budget cuts for the remainder of the fiscal year, including $126 million at the National Weather Service. Hirono joined House Democrats in voting against the cuts, also rejected by majority Democrats in the Senate.
Hirono is facing former Gov. Linda Lingle, a Republican, in November.
"Mazie has consistently supported our mission of saving lives and property. That's what's at stake here," said Barry Hirshorn, a geophysicist at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center who is part of the labor union that represents 4,000 weather forecasters, technicians, civilian "hurricane hunter" crews and hurricane researchers nationwide.
"In February of last year, the GOP-controlled House approved a plan that would have triggered deep cuts for the weather service, including the Honolulu weather forecast office and the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center here in Hawaii," he said. "Those cuts would have seriously compromised our ability to warn the coastal populations of Hawaii ahead of the next life-threatening tsunami or hurricane.
"Mazie voted against those cuts."
Hirshorn and Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho appeared with Hirono at a news conference at Kakaako Waterfront Park. Carvalho said this week's 20th anniversary of Hurricane Iniki, which devastated Kauai in 1992, is a reminder of the need for federal, state and county support for disaster preparedness.
Democrats used the House Republican budget cuts to the National Weather Service in 2011 to cast the GOP as reckless, since the vote came shortly before the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center alerted Hawaii and the West Coast to the tsunami caused by the Japanese earthquake in March 2011.
This year, however, it is the Obama administration that has been criticized for proposing cuts. President Barack Obama's budget for fiscal year 2013 would cut the National Weather Service budget by about $30 million, reducing the number of information technology officers at weather forecasting offices to 24 from 122 and slicing $4.5 million from tsunami education and awareness and the operation and maintenance of deep-ocean tsunami warning buoys. The administration has acknowledged that delaying buoy maintenance could reduce the availability of data, so tsunami warnings may have to extend to larger areas and for longer times.
House Republicans have rejected Obama's proposed cuts to information technology and tsunami preparedness in their spending plan for commerce and justice programs next fiscal year. The Senate Appropriations Committee, led by U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, also has opposed the cuts in the Senate's version of the spending plan.
Hirono, however, said a Republican Senate could follow the House's budget instincts from 2011.
"The Republican Senate is very much on the page in terms of cutting a lot of these kinds of programs," she said. "There's nothing to reassure me that they would go a different route than what the House Republicans did."