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Sunday, January 29, 2017
January 29, 2017 News Read
By Andrew Walden @ 5:33 PM :: 2013 Views

239 Candidates Register for Honolulu Neighborhood Board Elections

Duke Aiona: “What is Your Legislator Pushing?”

Peek-A-Boo -- I See Your Tax Return

Judge Throws Criminal Al Hee’s Company Out of Court

Ige Campaign Manager Shows up on Fourth Judicial Nomination List

12 Caldwell administration cabinet members confirmed

Rail: Taxpayers to be Skinned Alive -- Twice?

SA: …A number of those most influential to the budget-making process have balked at the prospect of taking the unpopular vote. They’ve told Mayor Kirk Caldwell that, if state legislators are going to stick their necks out on the issue, that he and other city leaders need to see that the city, too, has “skin in the game.”

Last week Caldwell came to them presenting that “skin”: a proposal for increases in city taxes and fees.

From the politician’s side of the deal, this might seem like a reasonable bargaining chip. The mayor hopes the Legislature will then extend the GET surcharge indefinitely, not only to finish the construction but for operations and maintenance needs.

But the taxpayers aren’t politicians. All they know is that a brand-new array of taxes would be charged, well in advance of any clarity about how it’s to be spent.

And as for “skin,” the taxpayers of Oahu, now paying the excise tax increase beyond its promised expiration date, already are in the game up to their eyeballs. What they see is the prospect of taxation by both state and city governments, which can hardly seem like an improvement.

Caldwell on Monday told members of the Senate Ways and Means Committee that he would propose an increase in fuel and vehicle weight taxes, parking fees and other assessments. Here are some of the details of his $65 million revenue-raising plan, also submitted to the City Council:

>> Increasing the motor vehicle weight tax rate by 1 cent per pound starting Jan. 1 and then an additional 1 cent per pound in 2019. That would yield $25 million more each year from passenger vehicles and $50 million annually for heavier vehicles.

>> Boosting the fuel tax rate to 20 cents per gallon of nonbiodiesel fuel would raise another $10.85 million a year.

>> Doubling parking rates in parts of downtown Honolulu, the Honolulu civic center and Waikiki to $3 an hour. That would net about $4-5 million a year.

>> Other steps could include higher bus fares, garbage fees and a hike in property tax for the high-priced Residential A classification, which excludes owner-occupants.

This all seems like an attempt to spread around the financial pain. But for the long-suffering residents of high-cost Honolulu, every added fee stings….

read … Star-Adv Editorial

Tourism Industry Wary of HSTA Tax Hike Scheme

HTH: HSTA, the union that represents Hawaii’s public school teachers, is asking lawmakers to approve a constitutional amendment to create an “education surcharge” on residential investment properties and visitor accommodations.

The surcharge would apply to timeshares, hotel rooms and other vacation units. People who own one home would not pay an increase, nor would those with a second home who rent out properties for less than $1,500 per month….

The surcharge could generate about $500 million per year, the union says, which would be used to help lard up DOE bureaucracy and pay for wasteful contracting practices …

Jeana Jones, East Hawaii director of Hawaii Life Vacations, which manages about 30 properties in East Hawaii, said most visitors who book vacation rentals already pay nearly 13.5 percent in taxes. That includes the 9.25 percent transient accommodations tax and a 4.166 percent general excise tax….

Jones said in an email. “… There’s so much money out there that isn’t being reported properly. The state needs to find a way to go after that money — those vacation rental owners who don’t … pay.” ….

“When visitors come and they’re spending (even just) five nights here, I have to charge them 13.5 percent (in taxes) already,” added Jasper Moore, owner of Hilo-based Lotus Garden, which rents out short-term apartments, rooms and vacation cottages. “When they (raised taxes) the first time, tourism fell off, families couldn’t afford to come over….

The proposal was introduced as two bills. Senate Bill 686 would establish the surcharge which would be deposited into an “education special (slush) fund.”

For residential investment properties, that would amount to a yearly $3.50 per $1,000 of taxable value, for properties under $500,000. The charge increases to $4.50 for properties valued up to $750,000 and $5.50 for those up to $1 million. Properties valued more than $2 million would pay $7.50 per year per $1,000 of value.

Visitor accommodations would pay each year a surcharge amounting to $3 per day for those which charge up to $150 per day. Those charging more than $150 per day would be levied $5 per day.

Senate Bill 683 would allow the Legislature to set and determine the amount.

Both bills are backed by eight lawmakers, including state Sen. Kai Kahele, D-Hilo, and state Sen. Lorraine Inouye, D-Hilo, Hamakua, Kohala, Waimea, Waikoloa, Kona. As of Friday, both bills cleared a first reading and were referred to committees….

read … Visitor industry wary of proposed ‘education surcharge’

Bumbling DoTax Can’t Figure Out How to Collect online travel taxes

SA: …Years ago the state sued online travel companies such as Expedia Inc. and Travelocity.com to force them to pay state excise taxes on Hawaii hotel rooms that are booked and paid for online. The Attorney General’s Office won a major victory when Hawaii courts in 2015 ordered the online travel companies to pay $53.1 million in back taxes to the state.

Yet more than a year after those court rulings, state tax officials told lawmakers they still have not established a system for collecting excise taxes owed by smaller travel companies that also sell Hawaii travel packages online….

AP: SMALLER STATES REJOICE AS AMAZON FINALLY COLLECTS SALES TAX  (but not Hawaii)

read … Legislators push for collection of online taxes

Kealoha Settlement Allows Him to Continue Harassing Ethics Commission—City to Pay Lawyers Millions

SA: The city will continue to pay lawyers thousands of dollars to defend itself in lawsuits by outgoing Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha because his retirement agreement does not include his legal claims against the city, said the city’s Ethics Commission and the commission’s former executive director and investigator.

In the agreement with the Honolulu Police Commission that Kealoha signed last week, he waives any claims against the Honolulu Police Department and the Police Commission. The agreement explicitly excludes from waiver Kealoha’s lawsuit involving the Ethics Commission.  (Caldwell revenge scheme.)

Kealoha, his deputy prosecutor wife, Katherine Kea-loha, and their minor daughter are suing the Ethics Commission, former Executive Director Charles Totto, former investigator Letha DeCaires and the city for investigations Totto and DeCaires conducted into the chief and his wife.

The city has hired three separate private law firms to defend itself, Totto, DeCaires, and the Ethics Commission. The law firms have yet to bill the city for their services.

The lawyer representing Totto said he’s disappointed that Kealoha’s retirement agreement didn’t include the lawsuit involving the Ethics Commission.

“If they are going to pay Kealoha anything they should have resolved everything,” said Joachim Cox. “It imposes an unnecessary expense on the city.”

read … Legal bills from Kealoha suits persist

Will Trump Administration Kill Honolulu Rail?

Shapiro: …Caldwell won’t say what he thinks rail will ultimately cost. Rather than nail it down, he wants legislators to write a blank check for future overruns by permanently extending the half-cent excise tax that was supposed to last only 15 years.

The near-tripling of local costs with no increase in benefits cries for a fresh cost-benefit study to assess if it’s still worth pushing rail to Ala Moana, or if it makes sense to trim back and pursue cheaper traffic-relief measures.

Caldwell is pressuring the Legislature with a federal threat to withhold its funding unless local money covers the deficit by April.

But with the new regime in Washington, who knows if our funding will be released no matter what we do? And it makes no sense to let the feds, whose share is now 15 percent and shrinking, call 100 percent of the shots.

Out-of-control rail is devouring funds sorely needed for other state and city priorities.

In addition to the forever excise tax surcharge, the city is plotting a $65 million increase in gas taxes and parking fees, which usually fund road maintenance, to pay for rail. Higher property taxes and garbage fees for rail are also on the table.

The Legislature, which already scoops 10 percent of the rail excise tax, is threatening to take even more, meaning strapped Oahu taxpayers must not only pay for rail overruns, but also pay more for state services than neighbor islanders.

Our tax base is only so deep, and if every available penny is sucked out for rail, where do we get money for roads, schools, hospitals, decaying infrastructure, affordable housing, and pension debt?

Related: Trump infrastructure priority list focuses on Public-Private Partnerships--Does Not Include Honolulu Rail

read … City needs to prove rail’s worth before funding flows

Consider this time-honored Hawaii option for rail problem: Just ignore it and let it linger

Borreca: City Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi, the former budget committee chairwoman, said the current estimate is that rail’s operating expenses will be $120 million a year. Other estimates are a tad lower, but as Kobayashi pointed out, this is in the range of 9 percent of the city budget….

So the city is building a train it can neither afford to build nor operate.

There is a way out of this problem. Just ignore it.

Perhaps not on as extravagant a level as rail, but the Hawaii model is to just blink and maybe it will go away.

The first example is the Waikiki Natatorium, which was a crumbling and polluted swimming pool 38 years ago when the city shut it down.

Since then, it has been studied and prayed over. Schemes have come and gone. Honolulu has had six mayors since 1979 and every one had a plan. Another proposal came up this year. But the only thing certain is that 38 years later, it is a crumbling and polluted eyesore.

Another example of our ability to ignore and neglect is also on the waterfront: the nearly 140-year-old, three-masted Falls of Clyde, which along with Hokule‘a, is Honolulu’s most tangible link to its seafaring past.

For the last 50 years it has been in Honolulu, most recently as an interesting maritime museum. Now it is a derelict and condemned as a navigation hazard by the state Department of Transportation, which wants it gone….

read … Time Honored

UH hopes taxpayers will pony up if they claim it is for ‘free’ education to eligible students

KGI: UH is working with state leaders to secure $2.5 million to implement a scholarship program called Hawaii’s Promise….

Eligible students would have to qualify for resident tuition and be enrolled in a degree or certificate program at a UH community college for a minimum of six credits per semester.

“We already have financial aid from the federal government, the university itself, private donors and through the UH Foundation, Kamehameha Schools and employers, but there’s still a gap that prevents many from pursuing their higher education,” said Morton. “This program will completely close that gap.”

(Alternative Proposal: Eliminate all 25 of the administrators who were involved in the Wonder Blunder.  Use the $2.5M savings to pay for the scholarships.)

read … UH wants funding for 25 Administrators

UH Wants Cut of the Action at Aloha Stadium

SA: “We don’t have an institutional position on what should be done with Aloha Stadium,” Lassner told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser editorial board. “I think our real interest is in having a great venue for our (program), particularly football, and if we were to do other events there, we would like there to be a situation where the stadium is a revenue source rather than a cost for us,” Lassner said.

The Aloha Stadium Authority earlier this month recommended replacing the current 50,000-seat stadium with a 30,000- to 35,000-seat facility expandable to more than 40,000 for special events, and there are several bills before the state Legislature dealing with the future of the rusting 42-year-old facility.

UH is one of two schools in the 12-member Mountain West Conference — San Diego State is the other — that does not own or operate its stadium.

UH pays, on average, about $90,000 per game in operating costs to play its home contests at Aloha Stadium.

It shares in some parking revenue and may sell signage at field level but does not receive revenue from concessions or other signage. Aloha Stadium depends on self-generated funds to pay for salaries and operating costs….

SA: Police investigating alleged sexual assault at Stan Sheriff Center

read … Then They Have to Pony Up

Five Bills Introduced to Kill off Expensive Patients

HTH: …At lease five death with dignity (kill off expensive oldsters) bills have been submitted for consideration so far in Hawaii.

House Bill 150 includes a provision specifying that a request for a life-ending drug can’t come from a power of attorney, friend or spouse. Instead, it must “be made solely by (an) individual” — an adult with the ability to make medical decisions.

HB 201 specifically bans euthanasia, stating, “nothing in this chapter shall be construed as to authorize a health care provider to end an individual’s life by euthanasia.”

HB 550 requires physicians to verify an individual “is making an informed decision.” Also, the physician “shall recommend that the patient notify the next of kin.” A person who declines or can’t find family, though, won’t be denied access.

Senate Bill 357 notes “medical aid in dying” should follow standard “medical practice defined by established standards of care.” Those standards, as they apply to end of life, spring from Oregon’s experience. According to the bill, Oregon’s law has demonstrated that “in contrast to the fears of opponents, the elderly, disabled and uninsured have not been negatively impacted.”

SB 1129 prevents insurance companies from charging more if a policyholder requests the drug and requires the companies to pay benefits if the policyholder dies from taking it (most life insurance policies include exemptions that benefits won’t be paid if the policyholder commits suicide). The bill also assesses penalties if someone alters a qualified person’s request, or forges the person’s signature….

read … You are too expensive, Just die already.

HMA Opposition to Suicide Neutralized by Political Pressure?

HTH: The Hawaii Medical Association will not oppose passage of a “death with dignity” bill this legislative session.

The association has gotten more comfortable with the idea of such legislation, although it has yet to offer direct support.

“Historically, we’ve been opposed to this,” said Executive Director Dr. Christopher Flanders.

…Flanders said, “sometimes the writing’s on the wall, and we have to accept that.”….

…some doctors would not want to participate if a bill passes, Flanders said….

read … Neutered

Counting ‘Anti-Government’ Homeless Determines Flow of Government Money

WHT: …roughly 40 HOPE Services employees and community helpers in West Hawaii, who offer assistance in various capacities, rise each day before the sun in service of a crude census known as the Point-in-Time Count — a loose, data-based snapshot of sheltered and unsheltered homeless individuals across the island on one specific night.

The process can be dangerous, and even Kona’s most seasoned homeless outreach workers won’t venture into certain areas without police escorts — namely established homeless camps off the beaten path, which can be hotbeds of open drug use and sexual exploitation. Even in public spaces where danger isn’t prevalent, if it exists at all, the count is rife with challenges.

No one knows that better than Linda Vandervoort — an independent outreach worker supported by Living Stones Church, relied on and respected by the professionals at HOPE — who is acquainted so well with many of Kona’s homeless that she can recognize them from a quarter mile away, even with their backs turned to her.

“I do (most of my work) on my own, and I like that because I don’t have all the paperwork, and I can color outside the lines when necessary,” Vandervoort explained. “We’re going to get a lot of people who don’t want to give their information. Many unsheltered are anti-government.” ….

A woman in the passenger seat of an older sedan, wrapped in a blanket, sat up to the sound of Vandervoort’s inquiry, but promptly waved her off. This time, the handouts didn’t serve their purpose.

Vandervoort decided not to press the issue.

“She just wants to sleep,” Vandervoort said, as she walked back toward the van. “I’m going to count her anyway, because we still count if they refuse. So what I do is I just get a basic description and location, that kind of thing. So this person, who was most likely in the same situation on Sunday, is going to get counted.

“That’s actually protocol.” ….

The numbers do carry weight in terms of federal funding….

“When you apply for funding from HUD, it’s really a competition with other communities for federal funding….”

The state uses the PIT Count to help determine its policies and funding levels as well, but also looks heavily at data from the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), a database used by all homeless service providers in Hawaii that tracks every person who utilizes homelessness services over the course of the year….

Despite the additional data and research that accompanies the PIT Count, and the adjustments for funding and services made to account for its inherent flaws that are more or less impossible to address, the count’s drawbacks can potentially impact efforts to combat homelessness in Hawaii in negative ways. That is especially true on neighbor islands.

Hawaii Island’s 2016 PIT Count was 1,394, up from 1,241 the year before.

Under representation of a few key groups is paramount to these concerns — most precisely unaccompanied homeless youths. Only one unaccompanied homeless minor was counted on Hawaii Island in 2016, and the same goes for both Maui and Kauai.

“Often times these are runaways, either from their family or from foster care, and they’re trying to stay under the radar,” Morishige said. “Even if someone were to encounter them, they wouldn’t necessarily admit to being homeless….

Christina was willing and unashamed to participate in the count. She spoke pleasantly with Vandervoort, answering every one of her questions…. “You guys are the poor things. You got two or three jobs going on. You can’t stay at your houses because you’re too busy working to pay the bills. There’s no time for life.”

read … Documenting Hawaii’s homeless

Legislative bill proposes ban on sunscreen chemical harmful to coral reefs

KHON: …When asked if he thinks there will be any push-back from companies that use the chemical in their sunscreens, Espero said “I’ve already been approached by a lobbyist who is going to be advocating against our legislation.”

He said while there won’t be airport checks to make sure no one is importing the products to the islands, if the ban becomes law and goes into effect in July 2018, anyone caught selling or distributing sunscreens containing oxybenzone could face a misdemeanor.

SB1150, the bill containing the proposed chemical ban, is scheduled to be heard by the Committee on Energy and Environmental Protection on Tuesday at the State Capitol.

read … Legislative bill proposes ban on sunscreen chemical harmful to coral reefs

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