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Wednesday, January 05, 2011
January 5, 2011 News Read
By Andrew Walden @ 3:01 PM :: 7817 Views :: Hawaii County News, Agriculture, Maui County News, Congressional Delegation, Honolulu County News, Democratic Party, Hawaii State Government, Republican Party, National News, Development

$126M Giveaway: Abercrombie quietly boosts spending on Public Employees’ Insurance

Birthers “Born Again” thanks to Abercrombie

Instant Runoff Voting debunked

Pinching the Power of Dan's Purse

after Inouye's $1.3 trillion bill — with 6,700 earmarks totaling $8 billion — was blocked by Republicans, Pritchett showed Inouye shaking loose a lump of coal from a Christmas stocking. (Both cartoons can be viewed here.)

And, by Dec. 29, Pritchett had penned a third Inouye cartoon, this one running in the left-leaning Honolulu Weekly. It shows a restaurant called "Dan's Pork: Bar-B-Q Earmarks." The building has been padlocked shut, a sign hanging over the entrance that reads "Out of Business."

By that time, the U.S. Senate had approved a stop-gap measure to keep the government business until March. Gone were all the earmarks in Inouye's original bill — including $321 for 141 Hawaii projects.

As a new Congress convenes Wednesday, with Tea Party victors hell-bent on drastically cutting government "waste," Inouye may find it even more difficult to wield the power of his purse. The outcome could reveal just how vulnerable Hawaii (Democrats are) is.

Inouye is confident earmarks will not disappear.

"While the budget battles that originate in the Republican-controlled House will become more difficult, I do not believe we have seen the end of congressional earmarks," the senator told Civil Beat via e-mail.

But, he said he did not expect the $321 million in Hawaii earmarks to be restored anytime soon. And that $321 million is just a drop in the bucket when it comes to how much the senator has helped (his cronies in) Hawaii over his decades in office.

RELATED: Inouye becomes useless? House, Senate Republicans place moratorium on Earmarks

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Rail Money: “There’s just no chance at all”

However with republicans in control of the House and both Hanabusa and fellow Hawaii Rep. Mazie Hirono being snubbed for positions on the all important Appropriations Committee, getting GOP support for Honolulu’s costly rail project may prove difficult.

Conservative radio talk show host Michael Medved, who broadcasts his nationally syndicated show from Hawaii a few weeks every year, has been watching the debate over Honolulu’s proposed rail system with interest.

"I think there's no chance that the new republicans in Congress will go for this rail project in Honolulu,” Medved told Khon2. “There's just no chance at all.”

“Yes you could get this money from the Senate side, that's possible (and) I think that Sen. Inouye could deliver that,” said Medved, “but I think the chances of Hawaii getting the money for the rail project from the House of Representatives are less than the Seattle Seahawks winning the Super Bowl.”

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Shapiro: Djou departs political life, slamming door behind him

At his farewell news conference, he all but swore off elective politics and assailed his successor, Colleen Hanabusa, in advance for any disappointments Hawaii might suffer on issues such as federal funding for the $5.5 billion Oahu rail project.

"If rail funding doesn't come through, we have to lay the blame at the hands of Colleen Hanabusa and the rest of Hawaii's congressional delegation," said Djou, who had similar sentiments on the future of the Akaka Bill for native Hawaiian political recognition.

Mainly, Djou lost because he didn't moderate himself enough to appeal to the disgruntled independent Democrats who had voted for Case in the special election.

He ran his campaign straight out of the anti-Obama national GOP playbook, delivering a highly partisan and conservative message that has never played in Hawaii.

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Don't raise fees for status quo

the honeymoon phase is wearing off quickly among the voters, who deserve more detailed -- and balanced -- plans from their representatives. So far, all the Council has done is ruminate over raising revenue with new or increased user fees to fill the city's anticipated deficit topping $100 million for the coming fiscal year. Nestor Garcia, the Council chairman, referenced the idea in his speech at the ceremony, euphemistically describing the new revenue-producing scheme as a "pay as you go" system. Mayor Peter Carlisle also has said he favors this approach.

The questions: Could money be saved by eliminating or reducing some services? Could some functions be handled more efficiently through a private contract? If the public doesn't want to dig deeper for fees, what would they be willing to give up to erase the red ink?

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Budget Director Doesn't Have All the Answers for Lawmakers

Neil Abercrombie repeatedly said his administration would be ready from day one to tackle Hawaii's myriad problems, yet — for the second time in as many weeks — his administration is asking for more time when it comes to submitting a state budget.

Interim Budget and Finance Director Kalbert Young, addressing the Senate Ways and Means Committee and House Finance Committee, stunned lawmakers when he said the final budget might not be completed until mid-March — halfway through the 2011 legislative session.

Pressed by lawmakers, he explained that departments would likely send individual budgets over in a piecemeal fashion rather than all at once.

But lawmakers like Rep. Isaac Choy, a CPA, was incredulous that it would take that long, as the House must finish its work on the budget and pass it over to the Senate about that time.

In other words… $772M short: Abercrombie submits two-year budget, blames Lingle, tells Legislature to fix it

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Pension, Health-Care Costs Contribute to State Budget Gap

The cost to cover pension and health benefits for Hawaii's public employees is contributing to the state's nearly $800 million budget shortfall over the next two years. And these costs could go up as union contracts covering most of the state's 35,000 public workers expire June 30.

The state's budget office on Tuesday estimated it will need an extra $70 million in fiscal 2012 and $62.5 million in 2013 to pay into the Employees' Retirement System, over current levels. It also says it needs an additional $8 million in fiscal 2012 and $50 million in 2013 for employee and retiree health benefits premiums, over current levels.

For the current fiscal year ending June 30, the state budget included $375.33 million for the pension fund and $283.92 million for the Hawaii Employer-Union Trust Fund for health benefits for active and retired state employees.

REALITY:

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Hawaii government boosts its share of health costs

HONOLULU (AP) — Democratic Gov. Neil Abercrombie is increasing health insurance payments to Hawaii government employees, a move expected to cost the cash-strapped state $18 million over four months.

The state government is already short $72 million through June, but Abercrombie wanted to restore the 60-40 split for state workers that's enjoyed by county employees, Young said. 

(Why stop at $72M when you can go for $90M?)

House Minority Leader Rep. Gene Ward said Abercrombie was indebted to public labor unions who helped elect him in November.

"What we're looking at is the ... commitments you make when you're doing campaigning," said Ward, R-Kalama Valley-Hawaii Kai.

RELATED: $126M Giveaway: Abercrombie quietly boosts spending on Public Employees’ Insurance

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Abercrombie demanding emergency funding for Governor, Lt Gov office

One of the emergency spending requests Gov. Neil Abercrombie will send down to the state Legislature in the coming weeks will be for the offices of the governor and the lieutenant governor through the end of the fiscal year in June.

The lack of money available for the new governor and LG was not the result of an oversight or excessive spending by outgoing Gov. Linda Lingle.

State lawmakers purposely limited the money and placed restrictions on how much could be spent during the transition.

(Reject this.  Let Abercrombie make do with what Lingle had to make do with.)

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Hawaii tax revenue down 5.5 percent in fiscal year

The state Department of Taxation said Tuesday tax receipts from July through November were $1.64 billion, down from $1.73 billion during the first five months of the previous fiscal year.

The department says revenues would be up 5.3 percent if the state hadn't delayed tax refunds.

General excise and use taxes — the largest category of revenues — climbed 4.4 percent during the first five months of the fiscal year.

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State's Billion-Dollar Investment Still Frozen

Like 33 other states, Hawaii invested in risky-but-high-yield securities that crashed when the financial markets went south two years ago.

Hawaii invested $1.1 billion in "auction rate securities" backed by student loans several years ago. But when the financial markets crashed in 2008, the "auction rate securities" market froze, meaning the state and other investors could not get their money immediately, and the value of the state's portfolio fell by more than $250 million.

In late November, former state Attorney General Mark Bennett reached a tentative settlement with Citigroup Global Markets, which handled the purchase.

"This settlement agreement on a cash-value basis, means that the full amount that was invested will be returned in 2015," said Interim Budget Director Kalbert Young.

So the state has to wait five years if it wants to get the full value of its billion-dollar investment back, under terms of the agreement announced Nov. 23, 2010.

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Landed Aristocracy cash in on Hawaii Tax credits

Under the law, tenants leasing land approved by the LUC as important agricultural land can also apply for some benefits such as low-interest loans and state tax credits for farm-related investments on the land.

Incentives include $7.5 million in annual tax credits for investments in agriculture facilities, a $2.5 million loan guarantee program and expedited ag processing facility permits. Landowners also can build employee housing on prime ag land under the law.

Another, more controversial benefit allows owners of prime ag land to urbanize land equivalent to 15 percent of the acreage protected, allowing residential development as a trade-off for protecting farmland from future potential development.

But so far, all the applicants under the law have waived any rights to claim the benefit for urbanizing land.

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Principal's absence disturbs parents

Seven months after being placed on paid administrative leave, the principal of Baldwin High School remains off the job as the Department of Education continues an investigation….

DOE officials declined to discuss why Natalie Gonsalves was put on leave or when the investigation is expected to wrap up.

In the meantime, some Baldwin parents are expressing concerns over the prolonged leave, saying they are looking for closure on the matter — or at least more information on why the DOE took the big step of putting a principal on leave….

Gonsalves could not be reached for comment, but shortly after being placed on leave May 20, she told The Maui News that the leave stemmed from a memo to parents of graduating seniors on instructions for commencement ceremonies.

Gonsalves did not say what was in the memo that might have prompted an investigation, but she did say the letter was the same as those sent in the past "with very few minor edits."

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Better Government with Rep Fontaine

Akaku Television airs a series of shows called "Better Government With Representative Fontaine." So far, I have watched one episode and am impressed.

For those interested, "Better Government With Representative Fontaine" will be airing on Akaku, Channel 53, on Jan. 6 at 7:40 p.m.; Jan. 12 at 6:30 p.m.; and Jan. 19 at 8 p.m.

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Mass Psychosis on Big island after boy touches turtle

A photograph that appeared on the front page of Friday's Tribune- Herald of a 6-year-old boy caressing and crooning to a basking green sea turtle has stirred controversy.
Numerous letters to the editor and online comments about the photo by William Ing, titled "Turtle love," criticized the boy for touching the honu, the boy's parents for allowing it to happen, and the Tribune-Herald for publishing the image.

REALITY: Crichton: Environmentalism is a religion

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Dialysis monopoly accused of Predatory Pricing

KAHULUI - The president of Rainbow Dialysis, Joan Danieley, maintained Tuesday that Liberty Dialysis - Maui's sole provider of dialysis services - was practicing "predatory pricing."

During the second day of hearings before a state panel considering whether to allow Rainbow to establish Maui's second dialysis facility, Danieley was called as a hostile witness by attorneys for Liberty Dialysis. It is fighting a conditional state certificate granted in May to Rainbow, a subsidiary of Kaiser Permanente.

(Yep.  You still have to go to SHIPDA to open up new medical facilities in underserved Hawaii.)

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Soak the Homeowner to feed contractors?  Hawaii County council debates impact fees

"An impact fee is only one of several funding mechanisms this county, this council, this administration must begin to use to address our infrastructure shortfalls," Hoffmann said.

Ka'u Councilwoman Brittany Smart said her constituents are adamantly opposed to impact fees.

"I get comments all the time, 'You have to vote down impact fees, I can't even build a doghouse or a porch,'" Smart said. "Would someone who wants to build something like that be assessed this fee?"

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“Green” Energy: X-treme power 4th Hawaii Wind project

This project marks Xtreme Power’s fourth in Hawaii since 2009, and its third collaboration with First Wind. In addition to KWP II, the DPR was installed on neighboring wind farm Kaheawa Wind Power, as well as First Wind’s Kahuku Wind Power project on Oahu.

“Xtreme Power has proven to be a very good partner in helping us to more efficiently integrate the clean power produced by our projects onto the electrical grid,” said Paul Gaynor, CEO of First Wind. “The company’s energy storage system is an important asset to our wind farms, allowing us to provide a smooth supply of renewable energy from the wind farm for the residents of Hawaii.”

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Hanabusa Prepares To Take Office: Hawaii Democrat Faces GOP Majority

Hanabusa is part of a record-breaking class with Republicans holding a huge majority over Democrats in the House.

Among the 94 first-time lawmakers, only nine of them are Democrats.

FOX: Look who Griff Jenkins found!

REALITY:

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HNN VIDEO: Interview: Mufi Hannemann on media exposure and tourism

Joining us now is former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann CEO of the Hawaii Hotel and Lodging Association who is on his second day on the job.

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American Samoa school official pleads guilty to bribery charges

The head of American Samoa's School Bus Division pleaded guilty in federal court here yesterday to accepting about $300,000 in bribes over nearly four years and has agreed to cooperate in the prosecution of other government officials.

Authorities arrested Paul Solofa, 49, on Sept. 15. Solofa was director of the school lunch program when a federal grand jury indicted him Sept. 10 for the tampering and obstruction charges. He previously was the Education Department's Business Division director and chief financial officer.

The government says Nauer, Solofa, the cooperating witness who owns a business that sells bus parts to the American Samoa government and others agreed to charge the government for "phantom" bus parts that were never delivered. The witness then returned most of the money to the others as bribes.

Federal prosecutor Kathryn Albrecht said Nauer received from the parts business owner, identified in court records as "Witness A," envelopes stuffed with $50 and $100 bills.

RELATED: The Tsunami and Mufi’s Samoan Connection

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Birthers: The more Abercrombie talks, the more unbelievable his story gets

WND: It seems the more Abercrombie talks, the more unbelievable his story gets.

And with good reason. (Yes, because Abercrombie and Obama want us birthers to keep going.)

The new governor of Hawaii may have been involved in perpetrating a fraud on donors to the Kapi'olani Medical Center when he a read a letter, purportedly from Barack Obama on official White House letterhead, claiming he was born at that hospital. The event was a fundraiser for the hospital. Since this was as close as anyone had ever come to revealing the birthplace of Obama, WND asked the hospital about the letter featured on its website. Kapi'olani refused to confirm it was Obama's birthplace and removed the image from the website.

Later, hospital officials said they're sure the letter was genuine because it was produced by then-Rep. Neil Abercrombie.

Maybe this is the kind of evidence Abercrombie hopes to produce to address the festering doubts of tens of millions of Americans about Obama's eligibility.

The truth is that people have doubts because of the (we have made them think there is a) veil of secrecy that has surrounded what should be one of the most innocent of all public documents – a birth certificate.

Why does it continue to be the (do we birthers continue to make it a) focal point of national debate two years into Obama's term of office?

Because he won't release it.

Why won't he release it?

Obviously, because he has something to hide (wants us to keep babbling).

PRECISELY AS PREDICTED: “Birthers” smell profit in an Abercrombie governorship?

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