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Sunday, January 15, 2017
January 15, 2017 News Read
By Andrew Walden @ 6:29 PM :: 1614 Views

Architects: Put Rail on the Ground—Save $4.2B

Obamacare? Nobody Wants it Less than Honolulu

Obama Admin: Hawaii DOI Rule Part of ‘Renewed Era of Federal-Tribal Relations’

UHERO Adjusts Economic Forecast Upward Thanks to Trump

Michael, Row the Boat Ashore

2017 Legislature: Economy is Booming And They Still Want More Tax Hikes

SA: …Tourism arrivals, visitor spending and tax collections are all at record levels. The state closed the books last year on a budget surplus of more than $1 billion — the largest in state history — and finances looked so good in September that national rating agencies gave Hawaii its best combined credit rating and outlook ever.

Yet somehow there still isn’t enough money to go around, and everybody wants some.

“It’s a money year, again,” said House Democratic Majority Leader Scott Saiki. “There are just really significant areas (campaign contributors) that need (paid in to get) more funding.”….

The Legislature will gather for its 29th biennial session Wednesday at 10 a.m. at the state Capitol.

Further complicating the budget is ongoing union bargaining. Contracts for all of the state’s public worker unions expire June 30, and Ige proposed no pay increases for the next two years for several unions, including the Hawaii Government Employees Association, the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly and the Hawaii Fire Fighters Association.

The state estimates that giving unionized public workers even a 1 percent raise for the next two years would cost the general treasury $86 million. The largest of the unions is HGEA, which has rejected Ige’s no-raise proposal and is headed to binding arbitration in February for the first six HGEA bargaining units.

Ige says he didn’t budget anything for raises, but House Speaker Joe Souki said there likely will be money available for pay increases this year.

“There is enough money,” said Souki (D, Waihee-Waiehu-Wailuku). “We don’t tell how much money we have for raises because they’re going to take all that and more. … The governor is no dummy. I’m sure he has, in little pockets here and there, the money for it.”

Even so, Souki said he expects this will be a tough legislative session. Apart from the scramble for money, lawmakers will confront a double whammy on taxes because the city and the governor’s office are seeking controversial tax changes that would directly affect most consumers.

The city will ask lawmakers to once again extend the half-percent excise tax surcharge on Oahu to (insert excuse here) ….

Meanwhile, Ige has said he will again ask the Legislature to approve increases in the state’s gas tax, registration fees and weight tax to fund highway construction to (insert excuse here) ….

(The ‘solution’ is always a tax hike.)

read … Money woes are the elephant in the room

Budget: The Good the Bad and the Ugly

Borreca: …When House Finance Chairwoman Sylvia Luke says it is “borderline schizophrenic” and Senate Ways and Means Chairwoman Jill Tokuda says Ige and crew are “padding” the budget with tens of millions of dollars to state departments that didn’t ask for the money, something is askew….

the trouble is the state budget doesn’t add up and as they say in the South, “it is a fixin’ to get worse.”

There are several reasons. First the state is not collecting the amount of tax money it expected to. Tax collections are about $300 million less than planned and budgeted. But, the Ige administration budget doesn’t account for the loss.

Then the state pension fund is losing, not making, money. Latest figures had the pension investments growing at negative 1 percent….

But wait, that’s the good part of the budget news. Since the first hearing on the pension, the new figures have come out — and the pension doesn’t need $8.77 billion, the gap is actually $12.4 billion.

According to a Star-Advertiser story earlier this month, the pension plan now needs an additional $385 million a year from taxpayers….

“It can rain money out of the sky, it still cannot account for these kinds of payments,” Tokuda said.

OK, enough sugar-coating, let’s get past the good and bad and get down to the really ugly part of state spending …. rail….

(The ‘solution’ is always a tax hike.)

Big Q: Should Oahu’s general excise tax surcharge be extended to complete rail construction?

read … State’s turbid budget scenarios get murkier with city’s pleas for money to finish rail

Assisted Suicide to Help Insurance Company Profits-- Kill of the Disabled—They’re so Expensive!

SA … The Legislature likely will also debate proposals for what some describe as “compassionate choices” in dying, meaning establishing a legal way to provide medical aid in dying for people who are terminally ill and mentally capable.  Objections came from the medical community “who were adamant that they did not want to be the prescribers of medications that are the cause of death,” ….

Perhaps the most passionate opposition came from people who were severely disabled, Green said. Some disabled people were concerned that medically assisted suicide would become “the path of least resistance for health care,” he said.

After long and contentious hearings, Green said there was too little support for the proposals to advance them out of his committees. But “the world changes, as we’ve seen on gay marriage and marijuana legislation, and maybe this,” he said….

(In this case, the 'solution' is a spending cut.)

Reality:  Meet the Insurance Executive Behind Assisted Suicide in Hawaii

read … Money woes are the elephant in the room

Tax Housing by $45 psf to make Housing Affordable?

SA: INTERIM TOD-related affordable housing regulations represent a step forward, but continuing to offer the in-lieu option could be a big step back. The proposal, which needs City Council backing, gives variance-seeking rail-side developers the option of skipping affordable units by paying the city $45 per square foot of the total residential floor area.

The city Department of Planning and Permitting has defended the in-lieu option, saying, for example, it would be appropriate in cases in which people in affordable housing could be priced-out by rising maintenance fees in higher-end condominium projects….

In the case of the luxury housing project near the convention center, the developer is now on the hook for at least 20 rental units within 1 mile of the proposed Ala Moana rail station or payment of in-lieu cash equal to 20 rental units (up to $3 million) into a city housing development fund….

(The ‘solution’ is always a tax hike.)

read … $45 psf not enough

Vacation-rental tax: Hard to catch elusive funds

SA: There are two kinds of legitimacy, as far as vacation rentals are concerned: complying with taxpaying duties, and abiding by land use laws.

Once again, when the Legislature convenes this week, members are expected to confront whether or not the state will enable the collection of tax money — revenue that will be sorely needed this session — when there is still so little land-use control of this growing sector of the visitor industry.

Last session, Gov. David Ige vetoed a measure, House Bill 1850, that would have made it easier for the state to collect taxes from vacation rentals by delegating that task to businesses that act as portals for many of the rental operators….

Company representatives were in Honolulu last week, in preparation for a second try at the measure. Last session, it was estimated that some $15 million in underground accommodations taxes was left uncollected in Hawaii; AirBnB now claims that sum to be about $26 million….

(The ‘solution’ is always a tax hike.)

SA: Vacation-rental tax: Conflicts exists outside Hawaii

read … Tax Hike

Hee in Prison But Sandwich Isles Still Refusing to Pay $76M Federal Fines

SA: Embattled telecommunications provider Sandwich Isles Communications Inc. is disputing findings by the federal government that the company received more than $26 million in overpayments of federal subsidies over 10 years.

The Washington, D.C., law firm Venable LLP filed a petition this month asking the Federal Communications Commission to reconsider findings the agency issued last month….

Last month the FCC announced it is imposing a total of $76 million in federal penalties on Sandwich Isles for what it described as “egregious misconduct” in the case….

Sandwich Isles has received more than $249 million in subsidies since 2002 from the Universal Service Fund….

Sandwich Isles founder Albert Hee is now serving 46 months in federal prison for 2015 convictions on six counts of federal tax fraud and one count of corruptly impeding the Internal Revenue Service….

read … Island telecom firm disputes FCC’s overpayment findings

Hospital transition still a high priority for Maui legislators

MN: Maui County’s state legislators will continue to push for a smooth transition for Maui Memorial Medical Center and will remain vigilant in ensuring that long-term projects such as the Kihei high school get the money and support they need.

But at least two legislators pointed out that the state budget needs to be closely examined, especially with the state Council on Revenues lowering its estimated growth forecast of tax revenue from 5.5 percent to 3 percent. This means having around $155 million less than expected in the current fiscal year.

The comments from Maui County’s legislators come as the Legislature officially opens Wednesday at the state Capitol in Honolulu.

One of the items legislators will be tasked with is reviewing the $28.5 billion biennium budget proposal submitted by Gov. David Ige on Dec. 19. The biennium budget is for the 2018 fiscal year, which begins July 1, and the 2019 fiscal year.

Once the governor has submitted his proposed budget, the House Finance and Senate Ways and Means committees review all of the budget requests, according to the Hawaii Open Budget Initiative’s website (www.hawaiiopenbudget.com), and then both committees introduce their own budget drafts. After the House and Senate have each introduced their own drafts of the budget, a conference committee is created to reconcile these differences. That results in a conference committee draft of the budget that, if passed by both houses, will be submitted to the governor for approval….

WHT: Budget time: Here’s what Big Island lawmakers are fighting for this legislative session

read … Hospital

Homeless at Old Kona Airport Park have ‘very few places to go’ (Except a Shelter)

HTH: Nellie has survived meagerly on the streets and beaches of Kona, making her home here and there for the better part of eight years (and still won’t accept shelter).

Throughout her time as a homeless woman, Nellie has been ticketed and forced to vacate several homesteads — herded off sidewalks, pushed out of wooded areas and banned from setting up camp on shorelines. But for the past two months, she and her roommate have found more permanent refuge under a system of propped up tarps behind the Makaeo Events Pavilion on the mauka edge of Old Kona Airport Park.

A small community of homeless — roughly seven by Nellie’s count, although many more come and go as visitors — have built during the last few months a mini-tent city….

The settlement area is cluttered with bikes and other scrap material (trade for meth), and a pile of refuse is heaped outside the gate blocking vehicle access from Kuakini Highway. The living spaces themselves, however, are not only organized, but equipped with furniture. Clothing is draped across clotheslines attached to fence poles and residents have coolers full of soft drinks….

“Where else can we go? (Besides a shelter?) That’s the big question. There’s very few places to go (besides a shelter),” she said on Friday. “I try to abide by the rules. I try to keep my place clean. But dealing with the authorities and the laws, it’s not easy to figure out where to go next (besides a shelter). They should just let us know where to go (as long as its not a shelter).” ….

There have been some incidents with homeless camps at the park in general, however. Back in mid-July, a fire broke out at a homeless campsite at the northern edge of Old Kona Airport, which was extinguished without injuries. The blaze was the result of a campfire that apparently ignited a tent, fire officials said at the time….

“I’m sure sometimes it might be confusing for some people walking by because there are some homeless people who have mental illness problems. It might seem like (the homeless) are yelling at them, but they’re not. They’re yelling at the voices they hear or the spirits they see. A lot of them come here to talk to me because I listen to them.”….

Both Nellie and Michelle, who agreed to speak on record using only their first names, said they’d prefer to be elsewhere, to be indoors. (Knowing they would be rejected, in order to give reporters and the gullible an excuse) Both applied for the micro-housing units recently constructed in the Kona Old Industrial Area and both were rejected. 

They said they’d gladly frequent a shelter where they wouldn’t be hassled or ticketed for trespassing, but there’s far from enough space in existing facilities to go around.  (Except the empty beds.)

WHT Best Line: “I could probably be living in a sober living place right now, but I like to smoke weed (more than I like to have a home), and they don’t like that,” Kyle said. “They’d put me back on my psych meds….”

read … Tweekers Refuse Shelter

Homeless Camp Pollutes One Mile of East Oahu Beach

SA: …There isn’t just one pile of trash. It covers close to a mile of beach, though hidden in the bushes.

“You almost need a bulldozer,” Obando says as she’s picking up bottles, cans, old golf clubs and broken fishing poles with her gloved hands. “Everything is piled on top of each other. Layers and layers. It’s almost integrated into the soil.”

There’s furniture down there — a queen-sized pillow top mattress, an Archie Bunker-type upholstered chair — just sitting in the sand and the dirt and garbage. There had been a homeless encampment at the spot. You can see where someone constructed a sort-of living room, pushing the sand into a level platform reinforced with two-by-fours on all sides. The sandy floor was then covered with an old carpet — someone’s beachfront domicile hidden from the highway by a screen of haole koa bushes.

Those big pieces of carpet are strewn all over the bushes. They’re wet from rain and very heavy. It takes a team of strong backs and arms to roll and carry them up the hill for disposal. On one recent work day, volunteers bagged smaller items and made 10 truck runs to the dump. There is still much more to do.

Some of the volunteers have been out in the water with snorkels. They see cans and bottles out in the reef. The garbage on land is all slowly making its way to the ocean.

read … Trash

Surfrider marks 400th victory for Dominant Paradigm

KGI: The group considers a government decision made in favor of the coastal and ocean environment that results in a positive conservation outcome or improves public access to be a victory….

“The Surfrider Foundation’s 400 coastal victories demonstrate that if we organize and work together, we can advance coastal protection, even in the face of major challenges (without breaking a sweat because we represent conformity)….”

read … Dominant Paradigm

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