Election 2014: Dozens Pull Papers in First Week of Candidate Filing
You Like Tax Credits, Why Don’t We?
Minimum Wage Fraud Revisited–Again and Again
Defending Liberty: Grassroot Institute Interviews Ilya Shapiro
Abercrombie's Soft on Crime Parole Board Cuts Sentences for 14 Murderers, More Coming
SA: Minimum sentences for more than a dozen murderers were cut by an average of 40 years after the cases had to be revisited because of past procedural errors by the Hawaii Paroling Authority, according to a Honolulu Star-Advertiser analysis of the agency's data.
The 14 cases involved some of the most horrific killings in recent years, such as the 2006 shooting of a Big Island woman by her ex-boyfriend while their 2-year-old son watched.
Many also involved minimum sentences that, until changed, were well beyond the authority's normal guidelines, largely because of the heinous nature of the crimes....
Mitch Roth, prosecuting attorney for Hawaii island, said the substantial reductions are troubling given what the inmates did. "To me, it sends the message that the value of the life they took has been cheapened," Roth said. "It really re-victimizes both the community and the family, who had closure and now these wounds are being opened again."
While the current board already has decided 14 murder cases as of the end of January and a prior board handled two, 10 more are in the pipeline.
Among the pending cases is one involving Kirk Lankford, who was sentenced to life in prison in 2008 for the murder of Japanese visitor Masumi Watanabe. Lankford, who in 2009 was given a minimum of 150 years, is scheduled to have a new hearing before the parole board next month.
These cases never would have been revisited had it not been for the two high court decisions and procedural missteps by prior boards....
Of the 16 murder cases that have been decided so far, only two did not result in reductions. Those two decisions came under the prior board appointed by Gov. Linda Lingle, raising (answering) the question of whether the current Abercrombie board is softer on crime.
Johnson, the HPA administrator, said who appoints the members is not relevant to minimum-sentencing decisions. (Know them by what they deny.)
read ... Justice Reinvestment
HART Begins Deploying Excuses for Rail Cost Overruns
SA: ...legal clouds remain, including a ruling by U.S. District Judge A. Wallace Tashima, who last week heard arguments over procedures the city followed in planning the route through downtown Honolulu.
Additionally, a separate decision is still pending from a panel of 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judges, weighing whether the city carefully considered alternative options for managing Oahu's traffic congestion.
Officials for the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) are rightly worried about the impact of further legal delays, and that's because of another sword of Damocles hanging over their heads: There could be serious sticker shock if some of this legal uncertainty isn't cleared in the next few months.
Unless the courts flash the green light this spring, HART can't move on key property acquisitions or construction in the city center. That could create new delays in the overall project completion, and more costs.
There is also the negotiation for settlement of claims by contractor Kiewit Pacific Co., for initial delays in the project.
Legal challenges already have pushed the heavy lifting into a year when there are lots of other building projects going on, instead of during 2012 when construction was a lot slower. And this makes it more difficult to get competitive bidding, Dan Grabauskas, HART's executive director, told the Star-Advertiser editorial board last week.
read ... First the Excuses, then the Overruns
Shapiro: Caldwell Hedges Bets on Rail Cost Overruns
Shapiro: Honor his pledge that rail will be fully paid off by the end of construction from the city's half-cent excise tax and federal funds, with no "mortgage" left for taxpayers.
Remains to be seen. The extent of cost overruns won't be known until we're further into construction. Caldwell is hedging his bets by pushing to extend the excise tax beyond its 15-year life....
End the incestuous arrangement in which city Transportation Services Director Wayne Yoshioka was an ex-employee of Parsons Brinckerhoff, the main rail consultant he was charged with overseeing.
Caldwell replaced Yoshioka with a new transportation director and HART didn't renew Parsons Brinckerhoff's contract.
But the new consultant, CH2M Hill Inc., is the recent former employer of HART's No. 2 executive, Brennon Morioka, creating a new and similarly troubling conflict of interest....
read ... Mixed Bag
Since we're flush, it's time to refill rainy-day reservoir
Borreca: The good news exists because Hawaii is getting more tax money and not spending it all. For those with a large enough pot of coffee, the report is available at LINK....
In the first of a series of reports on state finances, the Pew Charitable Trust's states' fiscal health initiative notes two things: First, nearly every state is reporting solid financial growth; and second, the states should start thinking about what to do with the money.
Nearly every state has a list of ways to spend the money, with Hawaii also being in the "spend it" column.
But, Hawaii's budget is not over-the-top spending and some of the largest outlays are expected to be for paying down the unfunded liabilities in pension and retirees health care costs.
In an interview last week, Brenna Erford, a manager with the fiscal health initiative, looked at our state economy. "When Hawaii has sustained extraordinary revenue growth, say over a two year period, there should be an option to put that in Hawaii's rainy day fund.
"Your fund has a threshold, a maximum size which hasn't been reached in a long, long time," Erford said.
The volatility of Hawaii's economy caught Erford's eye. In other words, the size of the swing up and down, the highs and lows on the graph for Hawaii's tax collections, she noted, were in the top half of all states.
That volatility makes it difficult to plan and if the pendulum moves far enough, the state goes in the red, cuts services, furloughs workers and goes into recession.
The solution is that when it is raining money, what is needed is that rainy day fund, a big reservoir with a tiny spigot, because when the dollars dry up, you are on your own.
Background: Bitter Abercrombie Bickers With 'Irresponsible' Legislators over CAFR Credit
read ... Since we're flush, it's time to refill rainy-day reservoir
Residents demand HCDA change or die
SA: Kakaako residents want the Legislature to restructure the Hawaii Community Development Authority to be more responsive to community concerns and better manage growth in the area, or abolish the agency, tasked with regulating development in Honolulu's urban core.
Residents packed a conference room at the state Capitol Saturday morning, where the House Water and Land Committee heard several hours of testimony on seven bills that would restrict the HCDA's power, including a few aimed at sending a message that the authority is moving too fast in approving projects.
Testifiers, many of them wearing bright red T-shirts that read, "Save Our Kaka'ako," told lawmakers that they feel the agency is catering to developers at the expense of infrastructure, traffic and the makai and mauka views of existing residents.
After a nearly seven-hour hearing, Rep. Cindy Evans (D, Kaupule-hu-Waimea-Halaula), committee chairwoman, said the committee would hold off on deciding on the measures until Tuesday morning....
...units designated as affordable are priced out of reach of many residents. For example, units in a workforce housing condominium being built on Kapiolani Boulevard are priced at between $329,400 and $692,300....
read ... Die
SA: On Thursday a pair of resolutions, 13-168 and 13-202, were heard in City Council; another public hearing is set for 2 p.m. Feb 19. Proposed by City Councilman Ron Menor, they would change the rules the city sets when it strikes unilateral agreements with developers needing a zoning change. Known as "inclusionary zoning," the practice is to award the rezoning and often some other development concession in exchange for a set-aside of affordable housing.
City policy is that the affordable units comprise at least 30 percent of the total number for projects requiring a zone change. Among other amendments, the legislation would require that the highest price point for the units would have to be affordable to those earning 120 percent of AMI — the current ceiling is set at 140 percent, and that at least 15 percent would be priced for families earning no more than 80 percent of median income. The city's 2014 figures put the median at $82,600 for a family of four.
"I don't think my proposal is being unfair to developers," Menor said. "Clearly, 140 percent is market-priced housing; that's not ‘affordable.'
"At 120 percent of median. you're still talking about prices some people would consider fairly high," he added. "That's a home about $500,000 to $600,000 for a family of four. In my view, you could build it at 120 percent and still earn a healthy profit. There are affordable housing advocates who figure that's too high."
In the state Legislature, a slew of bills were introduced in an effort to tighten controls on the Hawaii Community Development Authority, the agency that oversees the redevelopment of Kakaako. The measures that were heard Saturday did not include a bill that sought to increase the percentage of units built for those between 80 percent and 120 percent of the median. This bill is not expected to move this session, but affordability was at least a tangent issue raised by the other legislation....
Marshall Hung has his doubts that lawmakers fully grasp the industry's challenges in supplying affordable housing and sees proposals to change the rules as unrealistic. He is the developer of 801 South Street, designed as twin towers and the target of criticism from those who say, among other things, that the project does not provide enough affordability.
Background: Ethics complaint: HCDA Falsifies Kakaako Workforce Housing Affordability Formulas
read ... Affordable
Statewide system of mobile medical facilities stands to lose a third of its funding
SA: A national report card released last month gave Hawaii an F for disaster preparedness, but the head of a little-known, statewide mobile hospital system says the grade was unfair.
"They didn't look at the contingency resources that are available; they only looked at the day-to-day resources. They only looked at what is, not what could be," said Toby Clairmont, director of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii Emergency Services....
What they didn't take into account, according to Clairmont, is Hawaii's 750-bed mobile hospital tucked away in unmarked containers, warehouses and a tunnel.
A team of 1,200 emergency responders -- including doctors, nurses, pharmacy workers and laboratory technicians -- can assemble $10 million worth of medical supplies and equipment within four hours to respond to a disaster.
But now its sole source of funding is set to be cut by 30 percent starting July 1, following a decision by the Obama administration to appropriate money for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Hospital Preparedness Program to higher-priority areas (like medical marijuana?) ....
Hawaii's disaster preparedness program will take a hit of $408,000 a year, threatening its ability to operate the mobile hospital and restock its shelves once medical supplies and medications expire, Clairmont said.
Background: Hawaii Scores ‘F’, Lacks Access to Emergency Care and Disaster Preparedness
read ... Thanks, Obama
Sovereignty Activists? Police, Media Protect Anonymity of Vandals who Smash Door at Iolani Palace
KHON: ...This morning, security guards at the palace caught two people apparently breaking in.
Police sources say one of the guards saw the woman kick the door and heard her say — “This is my house, this my house.”
“They had a couple individuals, a man and a woman in handcuffs and they had a lot of police officers who were here on scene.” Passerby Rick Myers said.
“Whatever their agenda is whether its nothing to political it is entirely inappropriate. The palace should be recognized for the treasure that it is no matter who you are.” Passerby Patrick Mcnally said,
An Iolani Palace spokesperson said in a statement: “We are devastated that one of our original etched glass panels has been destroyed. It is an irreparable loss of an historic treasure.”
UPDATE: 21-year-old Drew Paahao and 30-year-old Koa Alii Keaulana, were arrested
read ... About The Red Guards of Hawaii's Cultural Revolution
Caldwell Admin Questions Anti-hoarding proposal
SA: Atta told the committee that while the administration appreciates the problem, Bill 8 leaves many unanswered questions, including who will pay for objects to be removed, who will do the work and what happens to the items that are retrieved.
"It's one thing to remove sidewalk nuisances which have just a few items per person," Atta said, referring to the city's sidewalk nuisance and stored property ordinances designed to remove items, often the property of homeless people, that are considered impediments to pedestrians.
"When you go to some of these houses, they have tons and tons of stuff," Atta said.
Additionally, the bill would put the burden of what should be stored or thrown away on city crews tasked with removing the detritus.
read ... Questions about cost and implementation shelve the Council bill
Renewed Push for Tax Hike on Waikiki TVRs?
ILind: A reader called my attention to one of the anomalies in Honolulu’s current real property tax structure.
Did you notice the list of “nonconforming use certificates” for transient vacation rentals includes numerous units in several Waikiki condominiums, including the Royal Kuhio, 444 Nahua, Waikiki Banyan, and Waikiki Sunset....
The interesting thing is that although these buildings operate as hotels, their individual apartments pay property tax at the rate reserved for residences rather than the higher rate that applies to hotels....
Aston operates rental programs in each. If you look in the HTA Visitor Plant Inventory you’ll see that the Sunset has over 300 units in Aston’s program. It’s a very successful and lucrative operation for Aston.
The units are taxed at the residential rate of $3.50/$1,000 rather than the resort rate of $12.40/$1,000. It seems to me the City is leaving big money on the table here, as there are a number of condo hotels mauka of Kuhio Ave....
Mayor Kirk Caldwell introduced a bill last year that would have put all transient vacation and bed-and-breakfast units into the “hotel and resort” category, taxing them at the higher “hotel” rate (see Bill 37-2013). It went nowhere.
read ... Sticky property tax issues with some Waikiki transient vacation rentals
Power usage dropping on Kauai
KGI: “Since 2007, residential power consumption has fallen from an average of 515 kilowatt hours per month to 464 in 2013,” said KIUC spokesperson Jim Kelly. “With the exception of 1992, when Hurricane Iniki shut down Kauai’s grid, the average residential use in 2013 was at its lowest level since 1987.”
The efforts have helped to offset the cost of oil that is used to generate about 85 percent of island electricity. The average monthly residential bill was $195 in 2013, Kelly said. That bill would be around $216 if customers were consuming at 2007 levels....
KIUC reports there are around 2,100 residential and commercial PV systems installed on island today. In 2013 alone there were 537 residential and 71 commercial PV systems, and 116 solar water heaters installed, according to county building permits.
These systems produced about 3 percent of the total amount of energy consumed on Kauai, Kelly said. The $1,000 rebates for solar hot water systems, $50 appliance rebates, and 11,664 free energy-saving compact fluorescent bulbs all added to the effort.
KIUC will phase out its distribution of CFLs in 2014, and switch to light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs. They are more expensive but the cost is dropping and they save more energy and last longer than CFLs.
read ... Power usage dropping
Waikiki Bike Share to Cost $7000 per bike plus another $1882 per bike per year
SA: The nonprofit Bikeshare Hawaii, which was incorporated in January, wants to make 1,700 bicycles available for rent at low cost. There would be 180 bike pickup/drop-off stations in a network stretching from Chinatown to Waikiki and the University of Hawaii.
The nonprofit board, which includes Gov. Neil Abercrombie's chief of staff, Bruce Coppa, is formulating a plan to raise $250,000 in seed money from potential private sector and nonprofit partners. The board also wants to hire an executive director to administer the program and kick-start financial development.... (Politics controls business.)
The administrative startup cost for the program is expected to run $550,000, with phase one capital needs estimated at $11.9 million. Annual operating and maintenance is expected to cost $3.2 million. (Capital = $7000 per bike Operating = $1882 per bike)
"Businesses also have expressed an interest in being part of this program," said Formby, who added that 85 percent to 90 percent of program costs are expected to come from Hawaii's private and nonprofit sectors. "It's a quid pro quo question for them -- such as, 'If I give you $150,000, what would my involvement be?'" (Uh ... campaign contributions?)
Formby and other advocates point to the successful (really?) Hawaii B-cycle, a bike-sharing program piloted in Kailua in 2011 with support from the state Department of Health, as a model.
read ... A wheel deal