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Sunday, June 25, 2017
June 25, 2017 News Read
By Andrew Walden @ 5:08 PM :: 2837 Views

Hawaii named 'worst state to make a living' (again)

Washington Holds Guam Back, Despite Not Knowing Where It Is

Offshore Wind Turbines Blamed For Killing Whales

Anatomy of Epic Fail on Rail

Pay to Play: Navatek Contributes $120K to Legislators, Gets $8.75M in Tax credits and Grants 

SA: A politically connected ship repair company has finally succeeded in a years-long lobbying campaign to get lawmakers to sweeten a special tax credit to subsidize the company’s relocation from state-owned waterfront land to make way for a new container terminal.

Lawmakers first approved a less generous version of the tax credit in 2014 for the tenants, including Pacific Shipyards International and its affiliated company Navatek Ltd., which must relocate from the former Kapalama Military Reservation.

This year lawmakers voted to expand that tax credit, prompting criticism from House members including state Rep. Marcus Oshiro, who maintains the measure may amount to unconstitutional special-interest legislation. The tax credit appears to be crafted to benefit “a very limited” number of individuals and businesses, he said.

The tax credit is “the epitome of excellent lobbying by their consultant,” Oshiro said. “I mean, let’s call a spade a spade. They were able to deliver for their client at the expense of the general public.”

The state Department of Taxation calculates that House Bill 591 would give tenants at the former Kapalama Military Reservation, including Pacific Shipyards, as much as $7.5 million in tax credits over three years to help them relocate their businesses. That bill is now pending before Gov. David Ige.

A spokeswoman said Saturday that Ige does not plan to veto the measure….

Officers and employees of Pacific Shipbuilders and its family of affiliated companies have been very generous campaign contributors in recent years, donating more than $120,000 to an array of state lawmakers and two governors since 2009, according to state campaign spending records. 

State Rep. Isaac Choy, another longtime critic of the tax credit, pointed out the Pacific Shipyards family of companies has also benefited from lawmakers’ generosity in other ways.

In addition to the tax bills approved by lawmakers this year and in 2014, the state Legislature awarded Navatek Ltd. and Navatek Boat Builders more than $1.25 million in grants in aid in fiscal years 2014 and 2015. Lawmakers normally award those grants to nonprofit organizations, but in this case the Legislature opted to make the awards to the for-profit Navatek businesses. 

(Do the math: Invest $120K in purchase of Legislators, Collect $8.75M in Tax Credits and Grants – Result 73-fold payout)

“Pretty good, huh?” said Choy. “I guess you pay to play.”….

read … Tax credit granted to harbor firm divides lawmakers

Middle Street Station: HART Pays Millions More so First Hawaiian can Profit from TOD

HNN: Of the Honolulu rail system’s 21 stations, the Middle Street station in Kalihi is planned to be the only one built above water. …

The average station costs $35 million to $40 million. Officials at the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation said costs for the Middle Street station will likely be $5 million higher.

But Prevedouros said he expects the costs to be in the $60 to $70 million range due to the complexity of building over water.

He said HART could have located the station further east on what is now a parking lot at First Hawaiian Bank's data center, but chose not to.  (1st Hawaiian wants to profit from future TOD site.)

First Hawaiian's former CEO was chairman of HART for years. Prevedouros and community activists question whether that influenced the decision to leave most of the First Hawaiian parking alone.

"I don't know if it's taking care of their own or some other sensitivity to the property. Or it could be some malfeasance there,” Prevedouros said…..

Prevedouros and other rail critics said that a proposed forensic audit of HART’s operations would have shed more light on HART's decision to build the Middle Street station at its current location.

read … One rail station will be built over water despite critics saying it'll cost more

Blood Bank: HART Acts in Bad Faith – Reckless push to take land for rail

SA: The state’s lone blood supplier is pushing back in court against the city’s efforts to acquire the land fronting its Dillingham Boulevard offices for rail….

In a countersuit filed Thursday, the Blood Bank of Hawaii accuses the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation of acting “in bad faith” and “recklessly subjecting Hawaii’s blood supply to grave but unnecessary risks.”

It further questions the benefit of taking the parcel when the city still lacks the funds to build the full 20-mile line to Ala Moana Center….

Honolulu City Council members have expressed concern since the dispute involves a key community health resource. In 2015, Council members denied HART’s first attempt to proceed with condemnation.

Nonetheless, the blood bank’s countersuit notes that the Council abruptly reversed course in 2016. Its members changed a resolution that originally opposed HART’s next effort at condemnation so that it supported it instead before taking a final vote.

(Sneaky!)

The blood bank’s suit contends that the city didn’t provide the proper notice when it changed the resolution…

(If only the Blood Bank were First Hawaiian Bank!) 

PDF: Blood Bank Counterclaim

read … Blood Money

Legislators need excuses to Hike taxes another $1.3B  for more rail

Borreca: For politicians, the best way to trigger a bout of no action is to ask for a straight up-or-down vote on a tax increase…. 

Last week Senate President Ron Kouchi and House Speaker Scott Saiki announced that sometime in July or August they will call the Legislature back into session to do something about getting the city money. All this is made necessary because the federal government is still waiting for someone in Hawaii to explain how the Honolulu rail project, including more than a billion in federal money, is going to handle the cost overruns.

“There is a sense that the FTA (Federal Transit Administration) was beginning to monitor what is happening here and the congressional delegation needed to be able to respond to the FTA with something,” Saiki said in an interview last week….

The political alternative of just walking away from the project is really not under discussion, both Souki and Saiki said….

read … Legislators want answers to $1.3B question for more rail

Rail: Why Learn from Your Mistakes?

Shapiro: With legislators poised to cough up billions more to bail out Oahu rail, the city rail agency canceled an audit of project cost overruns after board member Ember Shinn argued it’s a waste to “figure out what we did wrong in the past.” Why learn from your mistakes when the Legislature rewards you for repeating them? …

And the quote of the month … from Ige about his critics: “It’s easy to charge ahead, it’s easy to spend money. It’s hard to spend it in the right way and in the right places.” Until he figures it out, we’ll just spend it all on rail….

read … Complacency

Rail: 100% Personnel Turnover as Rats Jump Sinking Ship

SA: Brennon Morioka, who’s worked nearly 4-1/2 years as the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation’s deputy executive director, submitted his resignation earlier this month, according to rail officials. He’ll leave the agency this week….

He’s the latest in a line of at least 16 directors, managers and other prominent personnel to leave HART since 2015, as the 6-year-old agency has struggled with vacancies and retaining institutional knowledge while overseeing the largest public works project in the state’s history.

“We really do have to fix the staffing problem,” Morioka said at a Nov. 10 rail board of directors meeting.

Additionally, the rail project has seen a near-total overhaul of its 10-member volunteer board in that same period. Only one original member from 2011 remains: board Chairman Damien Kim.

A peer review penned by transit industry experts from across North America flagged the issue in March.

“The frequency of staff turnover is high and impacts project delivery,” the report by the American Public Transportation Association stated. It blamed much of HART’s turnover on requirements for a one-year personal services contract, which it said deprives agency staff of long-term employment guarantees….

Murthy, the interim director, has a one-year contract that expires in December while the board seeks Grabauskas’ permanent replacement…..

read … Jumping Ship

Shakedown: After Ignoring it for Years, Squatters Suddenly Claim Coco Palms Site

KGI: …The state filed the motion against Noa Mau-Espirito and Hepa, claiming the defendants have been trespassing since March 17. Mau-Espirito said he’s been living on the Wailua property since spring 2016.

If found guilty, the group will be forced to vacate the property.

The Wailua man, who claims to be a seventh-generation descendant of King Kaumualii, and a group of about 25 of his formerly homeless family members, continue to live on Coco Palms property…..

Tyler Greene, co-owner of Coco Palms Hui, said the county recognizes Coco Palms Hui as the owners of the land. He previously told The Garden Island there were trespassers at Coco Palms and he was working with the county prosecutor’s office on the matter.

Greene and his partner, Chad Waters, have been trying to restore Coco Palms since 2012. The resort closed in 1992 after it was damaged by Hurricane Iniki.

During public hearings on the Coco Palms restoration project, and decades prior as it sat shuttered, no one claimed land ownership.

The $3.5 million selective demolition process began in June. By spring 2018 crews are expected to start Phase II, the renovation and reconstruction of Coco Palms.

The $175 million project will boast 350 rooms, 12,000 square feet of retail space, three restaurants, leisure areas and a four-acre cultural center.

Last month, Soong denied a motion from the state which required the two men and their group to stay away from the property.

Soong cited ex parte to remove the defendants from Coco Palms property circumvents a civil process that would prove clear ownership of the property.  (Translation: Gives the squatters lawyers time to negotiate for a payoff.)

read … Greenmail

Maui: Audit the Transportation Department

MN: Time and time again, the public sees news headlines about the county’s Department of Public Works’ Highways Division. An investigation was launched following allegations of improprieties in May 2015 relating to the infamous commercial kitchen at the Wailuku baseyard, and is still ongoing.

A former Highways Division chief also lodged a federal whistleblower lawsuit bringing new allegations of theft, pCard misuse, mismanagement and a lack of proper oversight. For the most part, parties have clammed up citing the ongoing litigation.

It will take time for these investigations and allegations to get sorted out by the administration, police or the courts. This does not mean the County Council should idly wait to take action. Whatever the outcome, the allegations alone have already shaken the public’s confidence in government.

In this spirit, I will ask the appropriate council standing committees to complete an in-depth review of the Department of Public Works’ Highways Division. Furthermore, I intend to introduce for consideration a resolution to authorize a financial and performance audit of the division.

A survey from the fiscal year 2018 budget session indicated audits of programs and departments as a top priority among the communit….

it is important for an audit to focus on internal controls over spending and approval processes of purchases. This must include the use of purchasing cards, the procurement process for goods and services, and the approval of purchase orders and contracts, specifically for large equipment. A methodical way to confirm county funds are being spent in the most judicious and proper manner must also be identified so another commercial kitchen situation does not occur.

The audit must also identify what additional measures can be put in place after a purchase is made to guarantee it is only used for official business.

Allegations have been made of county-purchased auto parts being installed in personal vehicles and the use of county garages for private businesses. Using county property for personal gain is not only unethical, it is illegal. It can be avoided through more effective controls by management.

The disposal of large equipment must also be reviewed to ensure dual controls are in place so a fair replacement value is received for any county equipment no longer in use.

read … Audit

Hawaii County: Audit the Hele On Bus System

HTH: …The Hawaii County Council approved a resolution Friday seeking an audit of Hele-On’s cash-handling procedures.

The audit would occur after a permanent administrator is found for the beleaguered Mass Transit Agency.

Mayor Harry Kim hired an interim administrator May 1 on an 89-day contract to get the bus system, suffering from failing vehicles and other operational problems, back on track. Interim director Curtis Sharp, a retired Marine, said the county will get seven buses donated from Honolulu on Tuesday.

He said the new $12 million baseyard, which is behind schedule but could open in August….

read … Audit

Mom blames court delays in the killing of 7-year-old Reef Aikau

SA: Two months before police discovered 7-year-old Reef Aikau fatally stabbed in Pauoa, the man suspected of killing him was scheduled to go on trial for two domestic violence charges linked to the alleged abuse of his wife, Reef’s mother.

But the April trial never happened. It was postponed twice, largely because of crowded court dockets.

About a half-dozen other delays in the criminal case meant that Gerald Aikau never went to trial before he is believed to have fatally injured his son before taking his own life on June 13, hanging himself at the family compound in Pauoa….

The initial delay in Aikau’s criminal trial came even as his wife, Kat Aikau, told the court in a separate civil case that she had “immediate safety concerns” for her son because his father was acting erratically and doing drugs again.

The couple were living separately at the time and pursuing a divorce. In her April court filing, Kat Aikau asked a judge to temporarily suspend Gerald Aikau’s visitation rights with Reef.

Kat Aikau cites the multiple delays in the criminal case and untimely action in two civil matters — the divorce and a protective order against Gerald Aikau that was in effect at the time of the murder-suicide — in saying the system failed Reef.

“If they hadn’t kept postponing, postponing, maybe there’s a different outcome,” Kat Aikau told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser last week, the pain from her loss still weighing heavily on her. She choked back tears several times during the interview, her first since Reef’s murder.

read … Slow Courts

The People Who Sold us Obamacare now Pretend to Speak Authoritatively Against Trumpcare—Who could be fooled?

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