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Thursday, August 24, 2017
August 24, 2017 News Read
By Andrew Walden @ 9:20 PM :: 1184 Views

Mauna Kea: UH to Trade 10,000 Acres for Telescope Approval, Lease Extension

Postpone tax talk until after rail audit

State GOP Calls for Forensic Audit of Rail

Keep Traffic Jammed: Rail FEIS Shows Plans for Lane-Elimination

Interior Dep't Sends Trump Recommendations on National Monuments

Schatz: Put Everybody on Medicaid 

Some Women are More Equal than Others

Which Counties Benefit Most From the Home Mortgage Interest Deduction?

Multi-Billion Dollar Tax Hike--Legislators' rail funding deal makes Sister Islands Pay

SA: House and Senate negotiators have tentatively agreed on a plan to bail out the city’s rail project by raising hotel room taxes statewide (Sister Isles to pay for Rail) and extending the general excise tax surcharge on Oahu for another three or four years, according to sources familiar with the discussions.

The new plan calls for increasing the hotel room tax by 1 percentage point for more than a decade, which would provide an entirely new source of cash for the rail project. That would temporarily increase the hotel room tax, also known as the transient accommodations tax, to 10.25 percent.

House and Senate negotiators also have agreed to dramatically reduce the so-called “skim” of revenue the state takes from the excise tax surcharge collections from about $30 million a year today to about $3 million a year in the future….

It’s not clear yet how much total additional money the proposed new funding package would generate, but state officials previously estimated a two-year extension of the general excise tax surcharge combined with a 1-percentage-point increase in the hotel room tax for 14 years would provide another $2.3 billion for rail construction. Rail officials now expect the full rail line to be completed by December 2025…..

…critics of how the project has been handled argue that the island’s elected leaders still have time to consider alternatives, despite the FTA’s latest deadline.

“We’ve seen time and time again … how the FTA has extended that deadline,” outspoken rail critic and certified public accountant Natalie Iwasa told City Council members during a rail-related hearing Wednesday. “It seems to me anyway that it’s not that critical to rush through any legislation.”

SA: Raise the price for TOD perks

read … Legislators reach tentative rail funding deal

Caldwell to Legislators $3B Tax Hike or Nothing--Promises Tax Hike Trifecta--GE Tax, TAT, Property Tax all to go up

KHON: A decision to move forward with a special session to address funding for Honolulu’s rail project could be made Thursday.

Hawaii state senators are scheduled to meet that morning.

Sen. Will Espero says they are still waiting to make sure there’s a measure both the House and Senate agree upon, and he has yet to see the proposal.

The target date to start a special session is Monday….

“We’re within our timeline. There are still negotiations going on, and on Monday, there will be a committee hearing. If that is the case and at that committee hearing, the public and others will be able to testify on any bill which is before us,” Espero said. “There have been discussions going on and individually among senators and leadership, and we are very close. We feel that the discussions have been fruitful.” ….

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell released the following statement Wednesday:

“House and Senate leadership have committed to the FTA and the public, in a letter dated June 16, 2017, a legislative solution to fully fund the completion of rail to Ala Moana. Full funding is $3 billion. Any plan short of that is not a viable solution. Any shortfall or shifting of any other state or city funds currently dedicated to City operations and services, would force a property tax increase on our residents and businesses. Such an outcome is not acceptable to the taxpayers of Honolulu. I remain hopeful the legislature will provide a bill that will fully fund the project.”

Agendas need to be filed by Friday for lawmakers to start taking any action by Monday.

read … Tax Hike Coming

Hot Potato: Will Legislators Vote to Make Themselves Responsible for Rail Disaster?

HNN: …Lawmakers, who are on the verge of a reaching a compromise on funding the rail system, are calling for an financial audit of $10 billion system.

They’re also considering a system of reviewing payments to contractors.

Under this reimbursement system, money generated by any increase in the hotel room tax or an extension of the general excise tax surcharge would first go to the state. The state, in turn,  would get to review the contractors’ invoices before disbursing the money.

"It's no longer your decision, it's our decision to figure this thing out for you,” House Finance Chair Sylvia Luke said during an Aug. 14 House and Senate informational briefing.

During that hearing, Luke was critical of Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell and other city officials for not cooperative in studying alternative source of money, such as the hotel room tax or tapping private developers.

read … Hot Potato

Could recent plunge in public transportation ridership spell trouble for rail? (Clue: “Yes”)

HNN: It’s a ridership, though, that’s tracking 14 million fewer passengers a year off its peak more than 20 years ago. It’s gone from a steady slip to a steep drop recently, a range of as much as 10 percent, or more than 1 million fewer rides a month, compared to a couple years prior….

“Uber, Lyft, and the other ride-hailing companies are clearly making an impact,” Morton said. “I’ve seen one city, in Las Vegas, where they’ve estimated perhaps it had a 10-percent impact on one of their major strip routes in the tourist area.”

Rail’s original pie-in–sky environmental impact statement said rail would have about 116,000 riders day, but its most recent projection bumped up to more than 121,000 riders (LOL!).

Roth said in most other cities, transit ridership overall actually has gone down after rail is completed.

“The norm is that you don’t get more riders than you have just with bus. You actually get less after you’ve added rail,” Roth said….

read … Trouble

Why is a forensic audit still not essential?

HT: …Honolulu's City Auditor Edwin Young is a recipient of the national Association of Government Accountants' Distinguished Local Government Leadership Award so it is with some trepidation that I comment on his reported remarks in this morning's Star Advertiser.

Mr. Young says that if Mr. Grabauskas were still in office he would call for a forensic audit. That begs the question, why did Mr. Young not call for such an audit when Mr. Grabauskas was in office? Has Mr. Young discovered something subsequent to the audit he performed that changed his mind? Second, if there "red flags" as Mr. Young avers, then others at HART must have been involved in the "red flags," so why is a forensic audit still not essential? …

Panos: Rail project audit needs to be comprehensive, independent

read … Honolulu Traffic

‘Friends of Rail’ – New Name for the Same old Insiders

ILind: …Friends of Rail describes itself as a nonprofit entity registered under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code. Such groups generally promote public policy issues which the IRS recognizes as promoting “the general welfare of the community.” By law, (c)(4) groups are considered tax exempt, but contributions to them are not tax deductible.

However, “Friends of Rail” turns out to be a trade name. It was registered by a different (c)(4) group, the Committee for Balanced Transportation, on March 1, 2017, state records show.

The latter group was registered to do business in Hawaii in 2005, at the beginning of the current rail planning. In 2008, when the question of whether or not to proceed with Honolulu’s proposed “steel wheel on steel rail” transit option was put to the voters, the committee registered the trade name “Go Rail Go”, which was prominent in the pro-rail campaign.

The Committee for Balanced Transportation/Go Rail Go reported spending $429,000 in favor of rail in 2008, according to state campaign records.

…An email inquiry to Friends of Rail was initially responded to, also via email, by Rebecca Soon, chief operations officer for Solutions Pacific LLC, a Honolulu consulting firm. The company is owned by Soon and her father, Ray Soon, according to state records.

The elder Soon stepped down at the end of March 2017 after 3-1/2 years as Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s chief of staff. Rebecca Soon is a former legislative aid to then-City Council Member Stanley Chang, and later was finance chair for Chang’s successful Senate race last year, and has been active in the Oahu Democratic Party. She has considerable background in project and business management, and community outreach.

Later, a more substantive response came from Emmanuel Zibakalam, who described himself as the spokesman for Friends of Rail.

Zibakalam owns his own consulting firm, Pacific Business Advocates LLC, and was recently selected for 2017’s Pacific Century Fellows Program, founded and still directed by former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann….

read … Don’t Be Fooled By ‘Friends Of Rail’

Foster parents to Legislature: Use special session to pay out $9M settlement

HNN: …In a settlement, the state agreed to pay $9 million to the families and their attorneys and raise the rates. But complaining the legal fees were excessive, state lawmakers didn't appropriate the money.

"Everyone agrees that this is a slam dunk. There's no rational basis that the legislature has to hold this settlement up any longer," said Victor Geminiani, attorney with the Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice.

Geminiani and foster parents are hoping state lawmakers appropriate the funds at next week's special session.

But House Speaker Scott Saiki said since the focus is on rail "it's unlikely the Legislature will be able to consider a proposed foster parent settlement." He said lawmakers believe terms of the settlement are still being hammered out.

But Geminiani said the settlement was supported by Gov. David Ige, the Department of Human Services, and the state attorney general. He said if lawmakers ignore it next week, he'll take the issue back to court.

"This case had been litigated three years to try to get some resolution that made sense. The state was clearly in violation of federal law," he said…..

read … Foster Parents

Oahu’s Cheapest Source Of Power Is About To Go Away

CB: How HECO plans to replace that electricity for Oahu customers is still unknown but Hawaii’s last coal-fired power plant intends to shut down in just five years….

The facility provides as much as 25 percent of the island’s electricity. So when AES Hawaii trips off the grid, it can create big challenges for the state’s biggest utility.

Unfortunately for HECO, in the not-too-distant future, AES Hawaii is poised to leave the grid –permanently….

there’s one thing about coal that’s attractive: it’s cheap, a fraction of the cost of oil or renewables like biomass, says Mattias Fripp, a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Hawaii Manoa. And that’s hard to ignore in a state where electricity rates are the nation’s highest.

In 2016, Hawaiian Electric paid AES Hawaii an average of 5 cents per kilowatt hour. During the same period, wind was about 20 cents per kilowatt hour. Solar from different facilities at that time was about 21 to 23 cents, although under a recently announced contract some of HECO’s solar prices are expected to fall to about 11 cents per kilowatt hour.

Those costs, Fripp says, justify keeping the coal plant running….

“This is a good thing for Hawaii (me) and Oahu (my clients),” said Jeff Mikulina, executive director of the Blue Planet Foundation, a local nonprofit pushing for (shoveling) Hawaii’s (ratepayer) transition to renewable energy (money to Silicon Valley billionaires.)

“AES Hawaii is currently exploring options to re-purpose the AES Facility to utilize greater amounts of renewable materials such as biomass,” the company said in a filing to the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission earlier this year. “Re-purposing the existing AES Facility to utilize biomass or other fuel conversion may provide a better value for ratepayers because the infrastructure has already been paid for.”…

read …. Rate Hike Coming

Mansions are easier to build on Valley Isle than apartments

MN: Have you ever wondered why developers on Maui spend their time building mansions instead of affordable homes? At first glance, it would seem they could make more money building mansions, but that isn’t necessarily the case. Surprisingly, developers often make less money on mansions than if they were to build low-end or midlevel homes or apartments. Why?

The reason is zoning laws, specifically the ones that prohibit developers from building lower-priced single-family homes and apartments on their land.

Most of the land on Maui is restricted to one house per acre, which is ideal for luxury housing but prohibitive for smaller homes or apartments. Homebuilders who want to change their zoning classifications to allow for greater-density, lower-cost housing instead of mansions must endure a decade long hazing of regulations, protests and red tape before they can start construction….

read … Mansions

Money: Gaggle of Activists Pick over Remains of Sand Mining Operation

MN: Two people testifying Wednesday in a sand mining lawsuit recalled seeing earthmoving work in a Maui Lani development in February without a required archaeological monitor.

(Anti-GMO whack job) Trinette Furtado and Cody Nemet said they were part of a group that went to the Maui Lani Phase IX site Feb. 22. Both said that they saw only one person, who was operating a bulldozer, and sand being moved from a large dune.

The testimony backs the claims of plaintiffs Malama Kakanilua, Clare H. Apana and Kaniloa Kamaunu, who on July 24 filed a lawsuit in 2nd Circuit Court to halt earthmoving activities by Maui Lani Partners….

read … Vultures

Homeless Meth Addicts Would Rather Drown Than Accept Shelter

KITV: …At one end of Liliuokalani Gardens, Nuuanu stream creates a picture perfect waterfall.

While at the other end, there is a growing eye sore. Tents and belongings line the stream banks from a homeless camp.

Nuuanu isn't the only place this is happening….

"People are sleeping on the banks of the stream, and there are many flash floods, often times at night. When they call out for help, neighbors have to go down and help them, so it endangers many people," said Kobayashi.

Those who live along Nuuanu Stream said they are well aware of the dangers of flooding. They tell Island News when heavy rains hit, a storm drain tunnel in the middle of their camp will fill with a wall of water. Floods will even periodically sweep away their belongings, but they still want to live along the stream.

Not only are homeless residents camping along streams, some are also packing belongings on boats and even living aboard makeshift rafts.

"If you go to Kalihi stream and Moanaloa Stream they are living in boats out there," said Manglallan.

Enforcement on the water would fall under yet another state department, and add to the challenge of clearing homeless campers. But a City Council bill could change that.

A proposed measure would make it illegal to camp along streams. It would also prohibit the use any type of watercraft as a temporary or permanent dwelling or place to sleep….

read … Illegal camping along city streams

Hawaii Co Council to take another bite at foam food container ban

WHT: A foam food container ban will be back on the table next month, following a unanimous endorsement by the county Environmental Management Commission.

The commission Wednesday moved Bill 13 back to the County Council after recommending minor edits that were discussed during its July meeting. The bill will be heard by the council at its Sept. 7 meeting, said the sponsor, Puna Councilwoman Eileen O’Hara….

read … Feel Good Nonsense

High court ruling could take away legal protections for off-duty officers working private events

HNN: The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday that police officers working off-duty jobs at private events may not qualify for a key, legal protection.

The case centered around Honolulu Police Officer Kinchung Chung, who was hired to work a New Year's Eve party at the Sheraton Hotel's Rumfire Club in Waikiki in 2009. 

Court documents show Chung stopped Dillon Bracken for trespassing -- for being inside a VIP section without a wristband. That's when hotel security guards took Bracken down. 

His friend, Paul Klink, took a picture of Bracken on the ground with someone on top of him and a hand pushing down on Bracken's face. "Security handled him as quickly and abruptly as they did and ended up causing him serious physical damage," says Klink.

A civil suit was filed against the hotel by Bracken who went unconscious while being restrained by the security guards.

The court ruled that even though Chung was in his HPD uniform, and was working an HPD-approved event, he was acting on behalf of the hotel when stopping Bracken for trespassing. Chung was also being paid by the hotel and was therefore no different from the rest of the hotel security staff and should not be allowed to claim "qualified immunity," a legal protection afforded to police acting to protect the public…..

PDF: Bracken v Chung

read … Protection



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