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Thursday, May 07, 2020
May 7, 2020 News Read
By Andrew Walden @ 8:29 PM :: 1657 Views

Could Hawaii go bankrupt?

A new Hawaii Jones Act poll released

Caldwell, Victorino Allow retail establishments to re-open 

COVID Count: 3 New Cases, 7 Released

Hawaii Lawmakers Will Go Back To Work Monday, Looking To Cut $1 Billion From The Budget 

CB: …The session is expected to run between six days and 10 days.

House Bill 2200 will be the vehicle lawmakers use to make the cuts. The bill started this session with over $400 million in additional budget items for Ige’s administration.

…The money committees are still waiting on a report from the state Department of Taxation expected in the next few days that shows tax collections in April. That report could give lawmakers a better idea of the state’s current financial picture than a revenue projection in early March that projected a $300 million loss in fiscal year 2021, which begins July 1….

read … Hawaii Lawmakers Will Go Back To Work Monday, Looking To Cut $1 Billion From The Budget 

Ige Backs Off His Suspension Of State Open Government Laws

CB: … Hawaii Gov. David Ige relaxed his suspension of the state’s open meetings and public records laws Tuesday when he issued a revised emergency proclamation allowing thousands of businesses to reopen this week after being shut down due to threats posed by the coronavirus.

The suspension was considered one of the most extreme anti-transparency measures taken by any U.S. governor in response to the coronavirus pandemic. It essentially allowed public boards and commissions to meet without the public being able to attend, even via videoconferencing. And government agencies were told they didn’t have to comply with requests for public records until the suspension was lifted.

The new proclamation encourages public boards and commissions, such as county councils, to avoid holding meetings during the outbreak unless it is absolutely necessary to comply with the law or respond to the ongoing COVID-19 emergency.

If boards do conduct business, which would require proper social distancing and teleconferencing capabilities, the order asks that every attempt be made under normal Sunshine Law procedures to ensure public notification and participation, from posting agenda materials online to accommodating remote viewing and testimony.

When it comes to the state’s public records law, the Uniform Information Practices Act, the proclamation states that agency officials can still delay responding to requests from citizens and the press, but that they should at least acknowledge that they received a request.

The order also states that any public documents requested under the law be retained and not destroyed, a requirement that was not in place when Ige first implemented the suspension….

“This proclamation is a significant step in the right direction,” said Brian Black….

SA: Ige halts suspension of open government laws

read … Ige Backs Off His Suspension Of State Open Government Laws

Hawaii Tourism Industry Pushing for Testing as Alternative to Quarantine 

KHON: … More than 200 visitors were recorded Tuesday, Lt. Governor Josh Green, said that will continue to go up and said COVID-19 tests should be part of passenger screening.

“I think it’s absolutely a must that we have some capacity to test people,” Green said. “I spent two hours with top executives in the travel industry yesterday going over all the many reasons why we have to do some screening mechanism with a test.” … 

(Key words 'screening mechanism.'  Translation: The tourism industry wants quarantine to be replaced by screened and tested tourists as explained HERE.  Josh Green is resisting open testing.)

Congressman Ed Case in a statement said testing for air travelers would require policy changes in the Federal Aviation Administration.

(He is making this seem more complicated than it is to help make the case for an end to quarantine.  Here’s the pitch…)

Part of the Congressman’s statement said:

“This can be basic temperature testing and symptom review to start with and then as rapid test kits come on line those as well. The responsibility and cost of doing so would be borne by the airlines. I have discussed this approach directly with senior members of the Federal Aviation Administration with jurisdiction over air travel.

The FAA’s view to date is that it does not have authority to permit such pre-boarding testing conditions although other agencies such as the Centers For Disease Prevention and Control may have the authority to preempt the FAA.

It may, therefore, take a change in the law or regulations to authorize Hawai’i to require pre-board testing (so don’t require it for boarding, duh!) and other public health protection conditions. I am pursuing all of these possibilities in Washington, D.C.”

(Did you spot the straw-man argument?  Here’s how easy it is to sidestep FAA: Hawaii would be testing for quarantine exemptions, not for air travel.  This has nothing to do with who gets on a plane, therefore has nothing to do with the FAA or the CDC.  COVID testing determines who needs a 14-day quarantine.  Also, with instant testing at HNL, many of the quarantine travelers can be instantly cleared—and positives caught.)

read … Tougher rules ahead for quarantined visitors

Default, Bankruptcy Coming for Hawaii Hotels?

ILind: … Hawaii hotels are sitting on billions of dollars of CMBS (mortgages) which are subject to debt service payments and eventual repayment of the principal amounts. But the current lockdown of Hawaii’s tourism industry could leave many facing difficulties making required payments.

Back in early March, prognosticators were suggesting Hawaii’s visitor industry could see revenue declines of 15-35% this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Under those scenarios, Hawaii’s tourism-based industry was rated likely to weather the financial storm, with perhaps a couple of shaky properties.

But a virtually total shutdown of the entire industry for an extended period of time, with no clear path to full reopening, doesn’t just mean a high level of unemployment among hotel, restaurant, and retail employees.

The danger, of course, is if hotels may be unable to cover their debt service payments and default, especially if Hawaii’s lockdown is prolonged. With revenues down to zero at this time for most Hawaii hotels and resorts, it’s hard to imagine that there isn’t a lot of fear and trembling behind the scenes….

A March 2, 2020 report by the Kroll bond rating agency also assessed the situation in Hawaii.

“Hawaii is home to 18 lodging properties—$4.33 billion by allocated loan amount (ALA)—that serve as collateral for 17 loans securitized in 25 CMBS transactions. Additionally, there are 28 retail properties, inclusive of mixed-use assets with a significant retail component, collateralizing 28 loans ($2.95 billion) in 30 securitizations.”

Kroll then examined scenarios what would happen under “stress” where hotels were hit with drops of 15%, 25%, and in the worst case considered, 35% declines in business.

The report found only two properties, the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai and Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa, would not have the cash flow to cover debt obligations under at least the worst case scenario (a 35% decline). But if the same review were done today, it’s unclear whether its conclusions would be so sanguine….

read … CMBS could pose risks for some Hawaii’s hotels & retail properties

More dark financial clouds surround Honolulu’s rail project

ILind: …We’ve been living with a .5% general excise tax surcharge to fund construction of the rail system, and that extra half-percent has been extended through 2030. Remember, we were told, that visitors pay as much as 25% of the total raised through the GED.

But that was then. This is now. Visitors are paying virtually none of the GET. And the tax receipts raised through the GET have plummeted since most of Hawaii businesses have been shuttered.

Meanwhile, Honolulu has paid much of the rail’s tab to date by issuing general obligation bonds. The state, up until Covid-19 hit, has been considered a good credit risk. One of the primary considerations of the bond rating agencies has been the strength of Hawaii’s tourism industry….

read … More dark financial clouds surround Honolulu’s rail project

Another 4,000 People Line up for Free Food

KHON: … Hundreds of vehicles once again lined the street for Oahu’s second food distribution event at Aloha Stadium. The long line makes you aware of the significant need caused by COVID-19. At each distribution site, organizers prepare bags of food to about 4-thousand households or while supplies last. And people were already gathering by the stadium a couple of hours before Wednesday’s event started.

It doesn’t matter if you’re the one giving or receiving, it’s heartbreaking to see hundreds of families, some, waiting hours for help.

“It’s an indication that the system is broken. Going into COVID, we saw that there were too many families fragile already. 1 out of 2 families is one paycheck away from being in a financially catastrophic situation. So COVID exacerbated that,” said Micah Kane, CEO of the Hawaii Community Foundation….

(Idea: Since Ige isn’t ending quarantine and reopening tourism, we should provide the unemployed with free airfare and a 20 foot container to leave Hawaii.  Sure 200,000 people leaving will change Hawaii forever, but its not like there is any other plan.  Others can become construction apprentices converting former Waikiki hotel rooms into residential condos.  There will be a glut so prices will drop.)

KITV: O'ahu woman with family of 12 shows up five hours early to city food distribution

SA: 4,000 line up again for free food

read … Many heartbroken to see long lines again at food assistance site

Clock ticks on companies’ survival

KHON: … While some sectors of the economy are being allowed to reopen, many businesses say they’re being left behind. Always Investigating found out there may soon be a one-stop resource online where everyone can find safety protocols and how to get approved to get back to business. But meanwhile many in sectors not addressed yet in re-opening proclamations say they feel left in the dark and left out, along with the tens of thousands they employ.

Business owners and workers are happy to see some sectors start to get the green light to re-open, but the approval process has some baffled.

“The narrative safe vs. unsafe, not essential vs nonessential…every business is essential,” says Steve Haumschild, who owns several local companies including a brewery, retail, delivery, expeditions and more. “It’s supporting a family and a small network within their community.”

KHON2 found the state does not yet have a system to tell all businesses what they would have to do to qualify for reopening, nor any central place for them to submit self-initiated safety plans for review.

The clock is ticking. Many business owners took on huge emergency loans and personal debt to keep their companies afloat and try to pay people, but going on two months of forced closure with no end and no revenue in sight, those safety nets are going to run out within days and weeks.

“Now that we’re approaching going on month 2 of this, the fact it’s not in place is really scary,” Haumschild said of the need for a streamlined re-opening resource. “There are groups of small businesspeople right now just terrified on what to do next or to shut down, and it’s going to be a very tough few months for all of us.”

read … Businesses seek clear path and protocols for reopening, as clock ticks on companies’ survival

To ease burden on system, state asks laid off workers to file certifications only on certain days

HNN: … Thousands of laid off workers frustrated with trying to file weekly certifications for their unemployment claims are being encouraged to instead file on designated days.

The state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations is kicking off an alphabetical system to ease the burden on the antiquated technology that has crashed multiple times over the past few weeks.

Starting next week, those whose last name starts with the letters A through G should file on Mondays.

Those whose last name starts with H through O should file on Tuesdays.

Finally, Wednesdays are for P through Z….

SA: State senator urges emergency action to assist jobless Hawaii residents

read … To ease burden on system, state asks laid off workers to file certifications only on certain days

Honolulu Police Commission allows public viewing—but only at HPD HQ

SA: … The Honolulu Police Commission held a meeting today that the public could watch, the first since the governor allowed the Sunshine Law to be temporarily suspended.

A big screen television was set up outside the front entrance to the police station on South Beretania Street, where a few people watched the meeting via closed circuit TV.

Commission Chairwoman Shannon Alivado said that the commission staff will continue to research alternative methods to allow the public to view the meetings. The next meeting, May 20, will again be held using closed circuit TV unless another method is selected.

read … Honolulu Police Commission allows public viewing

Maui County sets Monday for reopening its shopping malls, retail operations

HHN: … Retail stores and shopping malls will be allowed to reopen across Maui County on Monday, Maui Mayor Mike Victorino has announced.

Victorino said the date will allow retailers to prepare for a safe reopening — ensuring that their employees have masks and that their stores can accommodate social distancing guidelines ….

NR: Retail stores and retail stores in shopping malls allowed to reopen starting Monday, May 11

MN: Low Risk Safety Checks Can Resume May 15 in Maui Co

read … Maui County sets a date for reopening its shopping malls, retail operations

On beach closures, the governor and lieutenant governor aren’t on the same page

HNN: … disease experts ― and even Lt. Gov. Josh Green ― say there’s little risk to reopening the beaches given the low rate of infections in the state.

“I’m less worried about beaches than crowding at Ala Moana Center and so on," said Tim Brown, senior fellow at the East West Center and an expert in infectious diseases.

“Beaches — at least it’s in the open air and the wind is blowing and the virus will tend to be dispersed,” ….

(Idea: Allow commercial exercise, surfing, kayak, hiking etc. classes in parks so tourism ‘activities’ providers can stay in business by serving the local market.)

read … On beach closures, the governor and lieutenant governor aren’t on the same page

Mayor Caldwell announces plan to allow for deferral of Oahu property taxes

SA: … Mayor Kirk Caldwell announced today that all property taxpayers on Oahu will be eligible to defer paying a major portion of their August tax bills, and instead pay in four installments to lessen hardships caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Instead of having to make a lump sum, six-month payment come August, it can be paid over a longer period of time, through four installments with no penalties, no interest assessed because of a spreading out these payments,” Caldwell said.

Businesses, residents and those in other property tax classifications would be eligible for the interest-free deferrals. They will be issued “coupons” allowing them to pay on Aug. 20, Sept. 20, Oct. 20 and Nov. 18, Budget Director Nelson Koyanagi said ….

CB: Honolulu To Allow Delayed Property Tax Payments

read … Mayor Caldwell announces plan to allow for deferral of Oahu property taxes

Young Brothers predicts $11M loss due to Covid-19

PBN: … The PUC proceedings note the company reported that decreases in cargo volume could result in an $11 million loss of revenues over the remainder of 2020. In the docket, Young Brothers emphasized in its transmittal that cargo volumes have increasingly declined since Gov. David Ige's March 23 "State at Home" proclamation. From late March to mid-April of 2020, the drop in cargo volumes was approximately 146,000 total revenue tons, or -22.7%, when compared to the prior comparable period in 2019 ….

read … Young Brothers predicts $11M loss due to Covid-19

Most Hawaii industrial landlords collected 84% of rents during Covid shutdown

PBN: … Industrial landlords in Hawaii who didn’t offer tenants any sort of rent abatement when the Covid-19 stay-at-home orders went into effect collected 84% of rents due from their tenants last month, according to a study by the industrial leasing and sales team at Cushman & Wakefield ChaneyBrooks.

But local industrial landlords do expect rent collections in May to decline up to 20% from April, the report said ….

read … Most Hawaii industrial landlords collected 84% of rents during Covid shutdown

Soft-on-Crime Activists Still Trying to Sell ‘COVID in Prison’ Scare Stories

KITV: … could Hawaii's healthcare system handle a big COVID-19 outbreak in a prison? Some say no - and the ripple effect could reach you. That's why they're pushing the state to release more inmates from prisons and jails.

The latest numbers from the state show that 810 people are out of prison or jail and back into the community since March 2. Advocates like the public defender's office and the ACLU are pushing for more to get out ….

Reality: Just Days After COVID Jail Release, Suspect Allegedly Murders Homeless Dude

read … Sales Pitch

After Bumfight Stabbing, City Moves to Sweep Iwilei

CB: … Honolulu’s prohibition against sitting or lying in certain areas is likely to be expanded in Iwilei after City Council members voted to advance a bill on Wednesday.

The measure covers parts of Dillingham Boulevard and streets around the Institute For Human Services’ shelters including Kaaahi Street, Kaaahi Place and Kaamahu Place.

IHS Executive Director Connie Mitchell said the broadened restriction is necessary. She said unsheltered people in the area have become a health and safety threat to residents of her shelters. A 26-year-old man was stabbed in the area last month, she said, and some of her clients are tempted into illegal activity on the street nearby.

“We need to really encourage people to work to get off the street,” she said. “If we only maintain them on the street, it’s going to be problematic.” ….

Meanwhile: San Francisco buys alcohol, tobacco, marijuana for addicts quarantined in hotels

read … Some Good News

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