$10 Billion Is the Ultimate Price Tag for Honolulu's Rail Boondoggle
Full Text: Interior Department Issues Rule on Procedures to Amend Hawaiian Homes Commission Act
Study: Feds Grip on Hawaii Tightens 41%
Report: Hawaii State-Funded Pre-K Serves only 365 Students
Hawaii Congressional Delegation How They Voted May 16, 2016
Hawaii Veterans Treatment Court Celebrates 15 Successful Graduates
Big Q: Should transgender students in public schools be allowed to use bathrooms matching their so-called gender identity?
Obama's Hiroshima visit may open Pandora's box
NAR: On May 10, the Japanese and U.S. governments said U.S. President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima on May 27. He will be the first sitting American president to visit the city devastated by the atomic bomb on Aug. 6, 1945. He will make the historic visit on the sidelines of a Group of Seven summit to be held in Ise-Shima, in western Japan.
About a year ago, I suggested the summit be held in Hiroshima to give Obama the opportunity to visit the A-bomb memorial in Hiroshima. Japanese diplomats scoffed at the idea with one later telling me, "For Obama, it was anywhere but Hiroshima," adding that "if he comes [to Hiroshima] just because the Japanese government asked him to, it would make him look to the Americans like he is coming to apologize."
The diplomats' reaction may have revealed my ignorance of the subtleties of diplomacy. But two things became clear to me: Obama would visit Hiroshima, and Japanese diplomats are very sensitive to whether Obama would offer an apology.
At a press briefing on May 10, after announcing Obama's Hiroshima visit, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said it would be "wrong" to interpret Obama's visit as an apology for the bombing. A 2009 poll by Quinnipiac University in the U.S. showed 61% of the Americans surveyed thought the U.S. did the right thing in dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and, three days later, on Nagasaki. Only 22% said it was a wrong thing….
In April, a group of U.S. veterans who survived the so-called Bataan Death March sent an open letter to Obama, urging him to "forego a trip to Hiroshima until [he] can first make an equally poignant memorialization of the Americans who perished in Japan." Although the veterans do not explicitly demand that Obama seek a Japanese apology for the forced march of U.S. prisoners of war in the Philippines, their memories of the atrocity are reflected in the words of the letter.
Some in China,North and South Koreas are also objecting to Obama's Hiroshima visit -- a sign that it may open a Pandora's box….
2009: Wikileaks: Japan refused Obama Hiroshima Apology
read … Thanks, Obama
Hospital Privatization: Vested Employees Score $366,500 each in Freebies
SA: …The state’s decision to privatize three neighbor island hospitals is having some unexpected fiscal fallout, with experts in the public-employee pension system estimating that privatizing Maui Memorial Medical Center and two other facilities will add $213 million to the unfunded liability of the public-employees pension fund.
Trustees of the Employees’ Retirement System are also concerned about a measure approved by lawmakers this month to provide severance payments or extra pension bonuses to outgoing Maui and Lanai hospital workers who will lose their state jobs because of privatization.
That bill could cost the state an additional $40 million in the form of severance payments and retirement bonuses, according to ERS estimates, with the retirement fund likely to bear a significant portion of that cost. Senate Bill 2077, which provides severance and retirement benefits to those workers, is now pending before Gov. David Ige, who will decide in the weeks ahead whether to approve it or veto the measure.
The privatization of about 1,400 state hospital jobs on Maui and Lanai is expected to increase the ERS’ unfunded liability because the system had expected those workers to pay into the retirement system for many years to come. ($40M / 1400 = $28,500 per employee)
The ERS estimates it will forgo $11 million to $15 million in employee contributions into the pension fund in the first year after the hospitals are privatized. Those workers would have contributed about $213 million into the pension system in the decades ahead.
About 630 of those outgoing hospital workers are already vested in the retirement system, which means they will draw state pension benefits when they reach retirement age, ERS officials said. However, those vested hospital workers will not make any further contributions into the state pension fund after their jobs are privatized.
($213M / 630 = $338K per vested employee)
($338,000 + $28,500 = $366,500 per vested employee)
read … No More Contributions
Cronyism: Contractors ‘Pre-Qualified’ for $100M Cool Schools Bonanza
SA: Question: I work with a group that was interested in saving the state substantial costs with respect to heat abatement of some 1,000 classrooms. We were wanting to put in a bid and were encouraged by news reports that the first bid had gone out shortly after Gov. Ige signed the bill into law that funded the process with $100 million. When I inquired, I was told that the bid process was closed, that consultants had been working on this project prior to the actual funding approval. That smacks of cronyism and does not seek to obtain the best bids for the state from others who may have become aware only because of the legislative process. It would be helpful and beneficial to the state to open the bid process for several more weeks at least past the legislative approval date. Perhaps the information I received is incorrect. Can you check on this?
Answer: Kokua Line followed up with the Department of Education, which confirmed that it pre-qualified contractors in April and that the process is indeed closed, at least for now. The requirement was publicized at the time and was done to ensure that capable contractors were ready to bid as soon was funding was available, said Donalyn Dela Cruz, a spokeswoman for the department.
read … Smacks of Cronyism
Is Hanabusa Competent to Clamp Down on HART Spending?
SA: …Colleen Hanabusa, the former congresswoman who now chairs the HART board, agency Executive Director Dan Grabauskas, city Transportation Services Director Mike Formby and others got the bad news in meetings with federal authorities last week.
Contrary to local officials’ previous expectations, now the feds seem more open to major cost-cutting avenues. Among the ideas being floated is a reduction in the number of rail cars and, given that some cities have seen ridership soften a bit, that’s worth a look.
So is the notion of reducing the number of stations among the 12 that remain to be contracted out.
…None of this negates the need to clamp down on constantly rising expenditures, through oversight of the existing contracts. Grabauskas has cited Oahu’s superheated construction market as the cause, draining the the available workforce and driving up bid prices.
But HART has never demonstrated it’s had sufficient cost controls; more hard-nosed oversight over the contractors and subcontractors is necessary. Taxpayers now have little confidence that Honolulu is getting its money’s worth….
Seeking … return of the 10 percent of the transit tax the state skims off each year. Lawmakers can’t justify continuing to keep the skim, plain and simple….
Rather than pulling the circuit-breaker on the project, HART and all elected officials should do their collective job: Manage those costs and that disruption….
read … Do Your Job
HAWAIIANS OPPOSE U.S. PUSH TO CREATE HAWAI`I TRIBAL NATION
FH: Hawaiians from Hawai`i are meeting with U.S. federal officials this week to oppose a longstanding plan to put Hawaiians into tribal nation status, much like American Indians.
Opposition to stopping this effort came to a head recently when it was discovered that President Obama is considering issuing an executive directive before leaving office early next year ordering the US Department of Interior (DOI) to federally recognize Native Hawaiians as a tribal nation against their wishes….
Today most native Hawaiians are adamantly refusing to be stuck into a fake tribal nation. The U.S. government wants to do it anyway, whether Hawaiians like it or not, and whether anyone else living in Hawai`i likes it or not.
Having failed for 12 years to get the U.S. Congress to fabricate a fake Hawaiian tribal nation, the State of Hawai`i has now clumsily attempted to concoct one, to hand over, ready-made for the Department of the Interior to take into the fold of recognized American Indian tribes.
What has emerged, however, is so sloppy, so distasteful, so repulsive to Hawaiians and Americans, it will be extremely difficult for the Obama administration and the DOI to accept it, even if they held their noses.
Read … Free Hawaii
Ahakuelo sold IBEW HQ, Used Money to Buy Beach House
HNN: Just 100 feet from the ocean, a two-bedroom home in Kekaha is supposed to serve as the IBEW's Local 1260's Kauai office. But it also serves as a retreat for union members.
At a time when the local was raising dues for hundreds, it paid more than $680,000 for the beachfront home on the Garden Isle.
Critics say it's just another example of lavish spending by the union's embattled business manager Brian Ahakuelo.
"Why you would need a retreat on Kauai? I don't think a lot of members would understand that or want that," said Teresa Morrison, former staff attorney for the local.
"I can't see why that would be necessary."
The IBEW's international parent placed the local electrical workers union under trusteeship on May 6, alleging Ahakuelo paid excessive salaries to relatives.
He's also accused of abusing vacation and leave policies and of using union money for pay for personal travel to Las Vegas, Miami and Washington, D.C. Most of the flights were booked first-class.
Ahakuelo has denied wrongdoing and has vowed to fight the charges. He said the Kauai property was a prudent investment.
The purchase of the Kauai home, which closed in February, was funded by the 2014 sale of the IBEW's former headquarters on Beretania Street, a deal that netted the union a $4 million profit.
Legal experts say the latest deal will likely attract the attention of the Feds….
read … On The Beach
Kauai Council to discuss GE Tax Hike Wednesday
KGI: Bill No. 261o proposes raising the GET a quarter of a percent….
Originally, the proposed bill asked for a half-percent increase, but was recently lowered to a quarter percent.
But the percentage decrease did not appease some council members. During a committee meeting last week, council members voted 4-3 to recommend killing the bill, when it goes back to the County Council.
Two bills relating to homestays are also up for second reading Wednesday. Both bills were discussed during committee last week.
One, Bill No. 2619, was recommended for approval by the planning committee. The bill seeks to find a better policy to regulate B&Bs and vacation rentals….
The council will also discuss the resolution that proposes a charter amendment to establish a council-manager government.
The resolution proposes instituting a county manager, who will act as the chief executive officer of the county and be responsible for managing county affairs.
KGI: Yukimura Argues for Massive GE Tax Hike
read … No New Taxes
Dedication and first service held at Hawaii Law Enforcement Memorial
KHON: …Despite Friday night’s vandalism at the memorial, Sunday’s scheduled ceremony was held after volunteers took it upon themselves to clean the area Saturday.
Several supporters are honoring the 64 law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty while serving the people of Hawaii, dating back to 1851.
But this memorial did not come easily — a foundation was formed in 2010 to design and maintain this monument. The UH architecture school was tapped to design the project….
KGI: National Police Week pays tribute to those who serve and protect
HTH: MEMORIAL DAY: Monument honoring fallen officers unveiled at Hilo police station
read ... Dedication
Anti-GMO Hysteria Drives up Cost of Cane Sugar
KE: …Just as HC&S is shutting down its Maui plantation, sugar is becoming more profitable.
Ironically, that profitability is linked to the anti-GMO movement, whose members include some of the very same anti-ag activists who worked so hard to kill HC&S with their unceasing complaints and litigation about cane smoke, water diversions and herbicides.
In the bizarre new world of activist-driven agriculture, the twisted chain of events goes like this:
In their quest to destroy agricultural biotech, anti-GMO activists stimulated irrational health fears, particularly in moms, who began clamoring for GMO-free candy.
Big candy-makers like Hershey's, one of the nation's top sugar-users, listened. According to Deborah Arcoleo, director of product transparency at the Hershey Co.:
In 2015 we started reformulating Hershey’s Kisses, Hershey’s milk chocolate, and Hershey’s milk chocolate with almonds, to move from beet sugar to cane sugar, and that’s complete. Now we’re looking to do that across the rest of our portfolio, to the extent that we can.
As a result, NPR reported, the price for beet sugar — much of it produced by genetically engineered Roundup Ready sugar beets — dropped below the price for cane sugar. Buyers are now paying 10 to 15 percent more for cane sugar, an expense that no doubt will be reflected in the price of candy….
read … Musings: Sweet and Sour
Schizophrenic from California Chooses to Live Homeless in Kailua-Kona
WHT: The initiative is in response to the statewide homelessness crisis, but has been met with concern from the business community, which is already frustrated by the rising number of homeless in the Old Industrial Area and the increasingly aggressive and unsavory behavior being displayed by some members of the homeless community….
Kyle traveled to Hawaii Island from California five months ago to (insert excuses here) Kyle found himself relegated to life on the streets little more than a month after his arrival….
If he so chose, Kyle, 26, could save up and return to California to live with his mother….
Other housing options might be available to Kyle, but imposed, mandatory restrictions accompanying those opportunities have left him apprehensive.
“I could probably be living in a sober living place right now, but I like to smoke weed, and they don’t like that,” Kyle said. “They’d put me back on my psych meds, and I don’t like the reaction to the medication. I have schizophrenia, that’s what I’ve been labeled with, and the weed has a lot fewer weird side effects.” …
The business sector has been stressing for years over the ever-growing homeless population and the increasingly aggressive and unsavory behavior displayed by some homeless individuals.
Complaints of public intoxication, indecent exposure, violent and verbally abusive behavior, trespassing and some homeless making visitors and employees generally uncomfortable have flooded the offices of the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce and the Kailua Village Improvement District….
The most recently published Hawaii Island Point in Time study, which was conducted in late January of 2015 and which tracks the homeless population, found that 82 percent of the Big Island’s approximately 1,241 homeless were unsheltered. That’s more than 1,000 individuals and a 55 percent increase from 2014.
Even more troubling, 70 percent of Hawaii Island’s 110 homeless family households were unsheltered. Dangers exist for any person roaming the streets, but specific concerns of rape, sexual exploitation and abuse grow with the numbers of homeless women and children.
“There’s some freaky people out there,” said Kendall….
read … Coping with Cohabitation: Micro housing project pushes homeless, business to coexist
Nonprofits seek funding to keep Homeless AIDS Patients housed
SA: …In all, 20 people with HIV/AIDS pay 30 percent of their monthly rental costs — typically from their government aid — to live in Gregory House apartments. But the bulk of the program is funded by HUD, which had been contributing $335,489 annually.
This month HUD notified eight Oahu nonprofit groups such as Gregory House that provide transitional homeless housing that their money will dry up this year.
Across the country, HUD is shifting its homeless funding priorities away from transitional programs such as Gregory House and into so-called “permanent supportive housing,” which is often referred to as Housing First. The Housing First model takes homeless people off the street and into fair-market rental units where they receive social service help for issues that can include mental health problems and substance abuse.
Most of the eight Oahu programs were told retroactively through emails that their HUD funding had been cut off days earlier, on April 30. Gregory House Programs still has three months to go on its annual HUD contract, which expires Aug. 31….
SA: Honolulu Council Budget Ctte OKs another $4M for homeless
read … AIDS
The ‘Brutal Reality’ Of Owning A Condo In Hawaii
CB: They’re often the only homes people can afford, but maintenance fees can suddenly explode. Should the state do more for owners? ….
Condo associations are also supposed to conduct studies of potential repairs and keep a certain amount of money in reserves to cover large maintenance projects.
Salcedo has no idea whether or not her board properly followed state regulations. But even if there were violations, the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs doesn’t have any power to enforce those provisions of the law.
Instead, the Regulated Industries Complaints Office focuses its condo-related regulatory efforts on ensuring boards abide by legal requirements to provide homeowners with certain financial documents, and the Real Estate Branch emphasizes public outreach and education.
“Our emphasis is on education and that’s what the law gives us the authority to do,” said Benedyne Stone, a condo specialist at DCCA. “The way the law stands now we don’t have authority to do much else. We don’t have enforcement authority. We don’t have authority to advocate or mediate.”
Because condos are self-regulated, it’s up to owners to file a lawsuit or pay for state-subsidized voluntary mediation services if they feel that a board has broken the law.
read … Brutal
Capitol Pools Reflect Accurately on Legislature
CB: Dead fish are floating in two reflecting pools at the Hawaii State Capitol that are supposed to symbolize the ocean waters surrounding the islands.
It’s the latest in a series of maintenance issues that have arisen since the Capitol was completed in 1969.
The putrid greenish-brown pools often reek. Poor water circulation results in out-of-control algae growth. And they leak.
read … Dead Fish