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Wednesday, February 23, 2011
February 23, 2011 News Read
By Andrew Walden @ 2:05 PM :: 6347 Views :: Hawaii County News, Agriculture, Maui County News, Congressional Delegation, Honolulu County News, Democratic Party, Hawaii State Government, Republican Party

Lingle closed $3B budget gap without raising taxes

Djou: Hawaii Politicians Detached From Reality

Gallup: At 65.9%, Hawaii Still Most Approving of Obama; among slowest to decline

Hawaii Congressional Delegation How they voted Feb 22

HB1545 to be heard today: Hawaii Legislators’ frozen bread bill

SA: What happened to Austerity?

The budget Gov. Neil Abercrombie unveiled on Monday needs further paring over the coming weeks because it does not yet show enough austerity, given the fragile state of Hawaii's economy.

But the good news, if one can call it that, is the fact that the Abercrombie administration is at least engaging the public and the Legislature on ways to maintain core government services without damaging the fledgling recovery.(hike taxes other than the GE Tax). 

(Yes, even the Star-Advertiser‘s editors have fallen for Abercrombie’s rope-a-dope to force adoption of a GE Tax hike.  We debunked it here: Abercrombie: GE Tax hike will be People's Will)

That shortfall, extending through the next biennium, had been estimated at $844 million; however, Abercrombie believes he needs to find $728.6 million more through fiscal year 2013 to restore "a functioning government."…

The governor has not yet made the case that the Hawaii Film Office is essential now, while money is tight. And while he's still hoping to cut expenditures on Medicare Part B reimbursements for retired public workers, state lawyers warn that this could spark a legal challenge. Finding other ways to cut becomes critical.

On the taxation side, Abercrombie will need to push hard to overcome lawmakers' distaste for some of his ideas. A soda tax that could be helpful in generating revenue without crippling businesses has already run into a brick wall of opposition from the beverage industry lobby. And he seems to be banking on some revenue producers -- such as a pension tax -- that lawmakers already seem inclined to water down.

What's also lacking in this budget so far is any attempt to save money through consolidation and other operational efficiencies….  (la te dah…a few hundred million here, a few hundred million there.  And don’t say “Audit the DoE”)

The governor seemed a little too eager to denigrate the bookkeeping "gimmicks" of his GOP predecessor, Linda Lingle. State Rep. Gene Ward, House minority leader took some umbrage at that yesterday, and he has a point.

"The Abercrombie administration is not making hard choices and continues to blame an administration that fared very well when compared to the other states on the mainland during the global economic crisis," Ward said.

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MISSING THE REALITY?

From www.GOPHawaii.com Instead of reducing state spending to address the $700 million state budget deficit, Governor Abercrombie is proposing to now increase spending even more in his latest budget draft.  Furthermore the Governor continues to propose tax increases to close the budget deficit even though many of them are clearly facing stiff opposition in the legislature and are unlikely to pass.  After calling the former administrations budget “fiction”, he seems to miss the fact that his own plan is light on reality itself.   The reality is, Governor Lingle dealt with a $3 billion budget deficit without across the board tax increases.   With all the missing parts in Abercrombie’s budget, all you really can do is go hmmm….

Abercrombie's new budget and taxes questioned

A panel of two dozen legislators asked the Democratic governor to justify hundreds of millions in new spending, adding 236 positions to the government payroll and hiking taxes as the state faces a projected $700 million two-year general fund deficit.

Several took aim at Abercrombie's ideas to tax pension income and soft drinks while ending Medicare Part B reimbursements for government worker retirees. His pension proposal would raise $112 million by taxing retiree incomes over $37,500 for individuals or $75,000 for couples.

"It's almost cruel," said Rep. Barbara Marumoto, R-Kalani Valley-Diamond Head. "It's a big hit, and the seniors are absorbing a big part of this."

House Minority Leader Gene Ward criticized the budget for adding new spending when the state already has shortfalls to address.

"Families are struggling to make ends meet," said Ward, R-Kalama Valley-Hawaii Kai. "He proposes these tax increase at the worst possible time when our economic recovery is still fragile."

House Finance Committee Chairman Marcus Oshiro said if lawmakers don't approve Abercrombie's initiatives, they'll have to find money elsewhere by reducing tax exemptions, loopholes and deductions.

"If we don't want it, then we reject it. It's always upon us to find alternatives, other means of finding savings," said Oshiro, D-Wahiawa. "We'll do all right."

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Bill on civil unions to be signed today, Oshiro too busy to get hitched to boyfriend

Oshiro (D, Aiea-Halawa) also is gay and a potential beneficiary of any law that bestows benefits of marriage to same-sex couples.

But as he prepares for Gov. Neil Abercrombie's historic signing today of a bill to allow civil unions, Oshiro says he does not have the luxury of looking ahead, preferring instead to focus on legislative priorities.

"Personally, it's been ongoing for several years for me, and so I think it's one accomplishment that I'm proud of and it just means now I can start focusing on the other big issues that we have to deal with this legislative session," Oshiro said yesterday.

As to whether he would someday look to benefit from a civil union: "Probably."

"I think I'll have to talk with my other half and see how that goes," he said. "But right now I think I'm still too caught up in trying to figure out how to balance the budget.

"After that, then we'll start looking forward in the future to what we may be doing or availing ourselves of with the law."

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Oahu Democrat leader pushing for $840M in sex tourism for Hawaii

"Gay travel is an $84 billion industry worldwide. (But since it is gay, we don’t call it sex tourism.) If we could capture just 1 percent of that, it would solve the state's deficit problem," said Jo-Ann Adams, (who is enlightened, conscious, and progressive, superior to you in every way) chairwoman of the GLBT Caucus of the Democratic Party (who apparently thinks that Hawaii tourism is operating under a 100% revenue tax).

Capturing the lucrative market is not necessarily a slam dunk. Despite Hawaii's reputation for diversity, the state is not ranked even among the nation's top 10 LGBT destinations.

Also, civil rights legislation for gays and lesbians has not been associated with increased or decreased visitor arrivals in Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, Boston and New York City, according to the Economic Research Organization at the University of Hawaii (UHERO). Civil unions would have a "very minimal impact on any aspect of Hawaii's economy and state government operation," UHERO reported in a recent economic impact study.

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Construction months away despite groundbreaking

Once the ceremony concluded and city officials and dignitaries broke a mound of ceremonial dirt, Carlisle admitted it would take months before construction of the railway actually begins. Right now the city is only allowed to move utilities away from the path of the 20-mile route.

“It's gonna be a while before they start putting up the actual transit system itself,” said the mayor. “What we need to do is get a full funding agreement and once we have that then we're gonna be ready to move forward.”

After receiving a Record of Decision from the Federal Transit Administration in January, the next step for the city is to obtain a Letter of No Prejudice.

Such letters are issued by the FTA after all financial concerns about a transit project have been addressed. In Honolulu’s case it would allow the city to begin construction on the rail system itself, which is expected to stretch from North-South Road to Ala Moana.

Toru Hamayasu, who heads the city’s Rapid Transit Division, confirmed Honolulu will likely have to wait up to a year-and-a-half before the FTA issues a LONP for the rail project.

Once a Letter of No Prejudice is signed by the city and the FTA, a full funding grant agreement would be sent to both appropriation committees in the U.S. House and Senate. The committees would evaluate the funding recommendation for the project and vote whether or not to recommend approval to both chambers of Congress.

Rail critic and former 2010 mayoral candidate Panos Prevedouros called the city’s groundbreaking ceremony a sham, designed to give the impression that the project is a “done deal.”

“We have not even applied to enter into final design,” said Prevedouros. “You need to complete final design before you sit down and you get your final appropriation.”

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Hanabusa, Akaka: “There will be overruns”

Hanabusa is also frank about the possibility of the rail system's price tag increasing, but says the city will be prepared to handle it "if and when cost overruns occur."

Akaka was similarly blunt. "We know that there will be overruns," Akaka told reporters.

Panos Prevedouros, who vowed to run for mayor a third time so he could deliver on a promise to halt the project, said if it continues to move forward, he likely won't run again in 2012.

"I am going to see how this project develops," Prevedouros said. "There is a slight chance that the whole project will be expedited. There is a slight chance the environmental lawsuits will not be fruitful. And the project will really start."

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Clayton Hee playing games with Abercrombie appointees

Hee's request for a deferral came after he raised questions about Aila's ethics. West Hawaii Today broke the news Feb. 12 that Aila continues to hold aquarium and commercial fishing permits — a fact that Aila did not disclose in his testimony opposing a ban on aquarium fishing in state waters. Civil Beat subsequently revealed that Aila failed to file his financial disclosure on time with the Hawaii State Ethics Commission. (His form and those of at least two other top Abercrombie administration officials have since been posted online.)

After Civil Beat's report, according to Donovan Dela Cruz, Hee said on the Senate floor that he hoped the committee would look into the matter. Donovan Dela Cruz wrote Aila on Feb. 17 asking him to respond to Hee's concerns….

The implication is that political gamesmanship is already afoot.

Donalyn Dela Cruz, the governor's spokeswoman, alluded to some difficulties with Hee when discussing the Aila nomination. Hee and Abercrombie go way back, having spent time together in the Hawaii Legislature before Abercrombie was elected to Congress.

She noted that while almost all Cabinet-level appointees have had a hearing, two that are still waiting — Department of Human Resources Development Director Sunshine Topping and Attorney General David Louie — are waiting for action from Hee's Senate Judiciary Committee. Asked if anyone from the governor's office has spoken to Hee about moving those appointments forward, Dela Cruz said she'd spoken to Hee personally.

"Sen. Hee said that he was very busy and said he was looking to scheduling those hearings following first crossover," she said. "We look forward to the governor's Cabinet being favorably passed, and we're not aware of any situation that would prevent that from happening."

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Gov's refusal to release list risks Judiciary's transparency, revert to Broken Trust days

Gov. Neil Abercrombie's refusal to abide by an Office of Information Practices opinion that he must make public the names of judicial candidates is a dangerous step back from the transparency in appointing judges we've achieved in the last decade.

For eight years, Gov. Linda Lingle publicized the names of the six finalists provided by the Judicial Selection Commission for openings on the bench and sought public comment before making her choice.

But Abercrombie refused to release the selection commission's list when he appointed Sabrina McKenna to the Supreme Court….

Abercrombie thumbed his nose at OIP's fair compromise, which would protect the privacy of judicial nominees as long as the issue is unsettled, while providing the public enough information in the end to fairly evaluate whether the governor and Judicial Selection Commission did a proper job of picking judges who exercise immense power over us.

Abercrombie's evidence that secrecy produces better judges is skimpy, anecdotal and unconvincing; we certainly didn't have better judges in the 1980s and 1990s before Cayetano and Lingle ended the absolute secrecy that Abercrombie wants to resume.

Back then, elected officials used back-door manipulations to get their cronies in place to assure that the favored few got the choicest assignments — including $1 million-a-year Bishop Estate appointments handed out by the courts to a House speaker, a Senate president, a chief justice of the Supreme Court and a chairman of the Judicial Selection Commission.

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2012? New Mufi web site looks a lot like a campaign

It appears the 2012 campaign season has begun in earnest, if former mayor Mufi Hannemann is any indication. An email blast called attention to his “new” generic campaign web site, www.MufiHannemann.org, which is now up and running. The domain was registered on May 31, 2008, along with MufiHannemann.com, which forwards back to the .org site….

And what is Mufi lining himself up to run for? Senate? Is Lingle’s possible run against Akaka enough to open up the seat? Or is he staking a claim, “just in case.” You’ve got to wonder.

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Telescope coming down to a vote

Final vote pending on appointed school board

The House unanimously passed the bill Tuesday, sending it to the Senate for further consideration.

The legislation would give Democratic Gov. Neil Abercrombie the power to choose his education team without having his choices limited to a list submitted by an advisory panel.

The Senate already unanimously approved an earlier version of the bill last month, but it will be reconsidered because the House amended it.

SA: State House OKs bill for appointing BOE members

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HSTA still sabotaging RTTT

The Hawaii Department of Education has made significant progress on most of its key Race to the Top goals, but it has barely touched one controversial area: teacher performance evaluations.

Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi presented an update on its Race to the Top status at a special Board of Education meeting Tuesday afternoon. It was the most detailed report the department has shared since Hawaii was selected to receive one of the coveted federal Race grants last August. The grant gives the state $75 million to be spent over the next four years on systemwide school reforms….

Hawaii promised in its Race to the Top application that it would institute an annual evaluation of all of its teachers. So far, the department has taken only the first step toward that end. The final step will be negotiating performance-based pay and placement, according to the department's report.  (In other words, they’ve done all the paper-shuffling bs, but they haven’t touched the real reform at all.)

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44 Sports programs receive support from SOS

Forty-four Hawaii public high school sports programs will share in the $615,545 final installment of "Save Our Sports" funds this week and few beneficiaries will be more appreciative than hard-pressed schools on Kauai.

As if the economy and declining state allocations weren't challenging enough, Kauai Interscholastic Federation teams were additionally impacted by the move of football games off the traditional Friday nights last season.

Because the lights were deemed to have disoriented a protected species of bird, Newell's shearwater, most games were moved to Saturday afternoons, resulting in smaller crowds, officials said.

Waimea athletic director Jon Kobayashi said the move cut concession revenue, which schools depend on to underwrite their sports.

"Our income comes from the food booths and they were off, I'd say, maybe by a third (from 2009)."…

SOS raised approximately $1.4 million in public and private contributions, nearly $800,000 of which was distributed to schools last year.

RELATED: Furloughs: Advertiser sides with “sustainability” billionaires against “Save our Sports”

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HGEA suddenly “finds” coqui as Legislature debates tax hike to fund inspectors

Three coqui were caught on Oahu in three different neighborhoods during a recent three week span. One of them was found at the Waikiki Trade Center on Seaside Avenue in Waikiki. A second coqui was captured a few miles away on Diamond Head Circle. A third was caught in Ko Olina. (Notice how the locations are politically prime.  No frogs in Nanakuli or Kalihi, eh?)

Tsuji is backing a bill to increase the fee shippers pay from 50-cents per 1,000 pounds of cargo to $1 per 1,000 pounds. He projects the fee increase would raise an additional $3.5 million that could be used to hire more inspectors and keep invasive species out.  (Remember that last year they “found” a coqui in Manoa.)

(Obviously the HGEA is spreading coqui as a bargaining tactic. Likewise, union-owned mayors on sister islands purposefully disorganized eradication efforts to allow coqui to spread and create a demand for government services.  Duh.)

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Legislature approves $1M for governor's office

The money will pay for staff hiring, laptop computers and $345,000 worth of unused vacation time owed to members of former Gov. Linda Lingle's administration.

Chief of Staff Amy Asselbaye testified that the emergency money will bring the total amount allocated to the governor's office this fiscal year to $2.7 million, less than the $3.1 million budgeted last year for Lingle's operations.

(And so that is two, count ‘em, two hits on Lingle from just one bill.  That’s government efficiency working hand in glove with the State run media! )

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Even with Free Land, 'Affordable Housing' Fails due to lack of creditworthy applicants

In the past five years, at least two major developers set out to offer homes to low- or moderate-income families. Developers Castle & Cooke and CMKLV Inc. each received free land from the state under the premise that they would sell the homes they built only to families that couldn't afford Oahu's $570,000 median home price.

But despite the perk, the projects haven't been financially sustainable. The deals soured, the companies say, due to the state of the economy and affordable housing applicants' credit issues.

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Not BioFools: 'Our people don't want to be slapped in the face again and left with the opala'

Aina Koa Pono will use a microwave technology to convert biomass feedstock -- think sweet sorghum, eucalyptus or Christmas berry -- into biofuel and biochar.
"We have a 55-minute microwave oven," Chief Engineer Sandy Causey said. "That's it. The gas that comes off is filtered and purified. We distill it at that point and that's what creates the fuels."
Several people asked Causey and Chiogioji whether the microwave technology is safe.

(Here’s another question.  Does this plant consume more energy than it produces?)

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Duh: Kenoi’s Redistricting picks didn't live in the right districts

"At this point in time, I feel absolutely constrained to vote for these people," Ford said. "It's my opinion, the way this thing is going, the mayor has set us up for a legal challenge no matter what."

Local attorney Frank Jung, who served on the state redistricting commission in 2001, agreed with Matsukawa that it's critical the council and administration work together to resolve the situation. Both recommended the administration submit several nominees for each seat, to give the council latitude in the selection process.

"You never know who's going to sue over what," Jung said.

The nominees are Valerie Poindexter, Jeffrey Melrose, John "Mike" Middlesworth, Patrick Kahawaiolaa, Rene Siracusa and Linda Ugalde for council districts 1-6. The District 7 nominee, Susan Maddox, was withdrawn from consideration Tuesday.

Dru Kanuha, who was the District 8 nominee but lives in District 7, has been moved to that seat. Peter Hendricks, who was named to District 9 but lives in District 1, has been withdrawn from consideration.

New nominees are Craig "Bo" Kahui for District 8 and Joseph A. Carvalho for District 9.

Both Yagong and Ford said their concerns aren't necessarily with the eligibility of the nominees but with the process, which Ford called "subverted."

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ACLU’s Top Doper: It’s Time to Fix Hawaii’s Medical Marijuana Law

Although amendments have been proposed every year since 2000, not a comma in the law has been changed. There are three major bills moving through the legislature that would make significant improvements to the program. Together they incorporate the major recommendations of the Medical Cannabis Working Group (MCWG) submitted to the Legislature last February.

The MCWG, which I co-chaired with Laurie Temple, ACLU of Hawai`i Staff Attorney, was convened by Sen. Will Espero after bills for a similar task force were vetoed by Gov. Lingle two years running. (A link to the report can be found on the Drug Policy Forum’s website: ).

The bills in play would:

  • Move the program from the Narcotics Enforcement Division of the Department of Public Safety to the Department of Health (S.B.175);
  • Make numerous adjustments to the program urged by patients and physicians (S.B.58); and
  • Create a medical marijuana dispensary system (S.B. 1458);

Transferring administration of the Medical Cannabis program to the Department of Health was a top recommendation of all of the stakeholders from patients to caregivers to physicians. Of the fifteen programs nationwide, only Hawai`i and Vermont house their program in a law enforcement agency. All others with a registry system have it in their Department of Health.

It is inappropriate that the Narcotics Enforcement Division (NED) remains in charge of this public health program. Their mission is antithetical to the aim of the program: to address the suffering of people with serious medical conditions. (get as much dope as possible onto the streets because marijuana makes people into liberals.)

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Lawmakers take extra time crafting animal cruelty bills

Cock and dog fighting are already illegal in Hawaii and active participants could be arrested. But there isn't anything in the law that says you can't sit in as a spectator. Now lawmakers are looking at making it a felony to watch or wager on a fight along with killing another person's animal.

"A class C felony for attendance is a maximum sentence of 5 years imprisonment," Kaneshiro explained. "Dog fighting itself is a class B felony which is ten years maximum ten years’ imprisonment."

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Tops in Torts: New Hawaii Based Online Mesothelioma Knowledge Center Launches

SilverTech and Hawaii-based national law firm Galiher DeRobertis Ono announced the launch Mesothelioma.co , an information portal for Mesothelioma research, treatment and legal rights. The new website is designed to help (us lawyers find) those (we can claim are) afflicted by the rare and aggressive form of cancer, and (especially) those who may be at risk (who are much more numerous).

With over 400 pages of search engine optimized content, Mesothelioma.co offers localized information for 50 states, detailing at-risk work-sites, occupations and historical information on asbestos and Mesothelioma (so our clients will know what story to tell).

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PBS Hawaii Presents ‘A Conversation with America’s Misanthropic Poet Laureate W.S. Merwin’

In 1976, Merwin moved to Hawaii to study Buddhism with the revered Zen master (and surrender monkey) Robert Aitken.  Besides being a widely read poet and accomplished literary translator, Merwin is also recognized for his (misanthropic) commitment to the environment.  For the last thirty five years the Hawaiian Islands have been Merwin’s home.

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Sailors slain by Somali pirates had ties to Maui

Former Vic-Maui International Yacht Race competitors Phyllis Macay and Bob Riggle were two of four American sailors killed Tuesday by Somali pirates who hijacked a boat Friday off of Oman.

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