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Wednesday, April 13, 2011
April 13, 2011 News Read
By Andrew Walden @ 3:09 PM :: 4662 Views :: Honolulu County News, Democratic Party, Hawaii State Government, Republican Party

New Federal Budget kills old Earmarks--Honolulu Rail, Highway, Sewage Treatment Funding in Danger?

Brookings: Honolulu Rail Cost Overruns inevitable

Berg: Council could reverse Ansaldo Rail Contract

POLITICO claims Sen. Daniel Inouye goes silent on Hawaii Senate race

House votes for Pension Tax, Bag Tax, Liquor Tax, Auto Tax and GE Tax Hikes

The state House of Representatives today passed bills to tax well-to-do pensioners, boost liquor and motor vehicle taxes, eliminate numerous existing tax exemptions, and impose 10 cent fees on plastic and paper shopping bags.

The measures will now be further considered by conference committees made up of state Senators and Representatives.

The pension tax bill was narrowly approved by the House after the Senate killed a similar version of the same measure in the morning.

Fifteen members of the House Democratic majority voted against the pension tax proposal as did all eight members of the Republican minority, but it wasn’t enough to carry th 51-member chamber.

Rep. Marcus Oshiro, chairman of the Finance Committee, told the lawmakers that the pension measure would only affect individuals with income of $100,000 and above and married couples with at least $200,000 in annual income.

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Attorney General says Pension Tax may be challenged in Court, House passes anyway

However the most controversial measure to tax pension incomes remains undecided after the state Attorney General’s office warned the bill could be challenged in court.

In a March 18 letter the AG’s office advised lawmakers that benefits gained through labor contracts cannot be diminished under both the Hawaii and U.S. constitutions.

The Senate is scheduled to vote on the pension bill again later this week after Judiciary Chairman Sen. Clayton Hee introduced amendments to remedy any legal concerns.

In the House the measure passed 28-23, with all eight republicans voting against the bill on the grounds it would hurt the economy and could expose the state to legal action.

“It could take years to litigate the issue through the Hawaii court system and subject the state to refund lawsuits if the bill is found unconstitutional,” said Kailua republican, Rep. Cynthia Thielen.

In its current form the bill would tax the pensions of individuals with a federally adjusted gross income above $100,000 and $200,000 for couples.

House Speaker Calvin Say told reporters he was confident the pension bill could be revised to cross any legal barriers and said the measure was needed to help close the budget deficit.

CB:  Senate Rejects Taxing Pension Income

This move will create a hole in the state budget, as both Neil Abercrombie and the Senate were counting on some form of a pension tax to raise revenues.  But Hee's amendment would also stop higher-income taxpayers from claiming an income tax deduction, which Hee said would raise $40 million annually.

AP: Senate rejects Pension Tax

Political Radar: Legal attack

HB1092, SB570: http://capitol.hawaii.gov/

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Carlisle: HGEA Agreement “an albatross”

Carlisle: A potential deal between state and county governments and the HGEA labor union will be "an albatross around the neck of the taxpayer," according to Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle, who calls the nine extra paid vacation days workers would get a "really, really bad idea." …

Carlisle: I can't see how we could possibly balance our budget or get the 5 percent budget reduction that we've all been aiming for if we're giving away nine more days of administrative time, which is, in effect, vacation leave that doesn't accrue. So we're paying for people not to work, and that is an equivalent of — from what I understand — about 3.5 percent of that 5 percent that they've said that we've all built in in savings. It ends up ultimately reducing the people that we have available to work, and having people getting paid for not working.

CB: At the same time it seemed like the governor's announcement came as a surprise, like he maybe didn't give you notice.
Carlisle: He called me up and I think in his mind these were things that were OK. There were some things that to my mind were clearly not OK, so I told him that. They were simple and straightforward. I said, you know, you don't have my approval for that and I'm certainly going to not say 'yes' to a most favored nation clause, and I'm not going to say 'yes' to nine extra days off when people already have — the list goes on and on — you've got 21 days of vacation which is unusual in the private sector, almost nonexistent. Number two, you've got 21 days of sick leave, also a rarity, which accumulate. You've also got essentially nowhere near the types of opportunities that they're talking about whether you've got civil service protection or other protection. So, I was not looking forward to any of those things being something that could now be imposed that the government workers get. To me it was like an albatross around the neck of the taxpayer.

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Carlisle: Borrowing Rail Funds could jeopardize rail Project

Carlisle has also been vocal about another "terrible idea" that arose in the state Capitol. He continues to blast state lawmakers who proposed a bill to borrow $200 million from the city's rail revenue.

"It's a really bad idea," Carlisle said. "It's a terrible idea. And all you have to do is go and speak to (Federal Transportation Administration Administrator[ Peter Rogoff and ask him what they look at, and he will tell you from their perspective what the rules and regulations are."

Publicly, federal officials like Rogoff and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood have said they want to stay out of Hawaii's legislative affairs. But Carlisle said that Rogoff and LaHood cautioned Abercrombie against borrowing city rail funds during their visit to Honolulu last month. Carlisle said he couldn't remember the exact words used, but the message was clear.

"I certainly took it to mean that — and I certainly made it abundantly clear that, in my opinion — doing that is a really, really bad idea," Carlisle said.

An amended version of the bill passed the House Tuesday, and is headed for a conference committee. If the bill becomes law — a move that Carlisle characterizes as lawmakers "forc(ing) a loan down my throat when I don't want it" — it could jeopardize the rail project, he said.

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Berg: Stop state from using city's rail fund as its own piggy bank

Perhaps it was inevitable that the multibillion-dollar rail transit endeavor, Hawaii's largest-ever public works project, would bring out the greedy side of our otherwise dedicated state politicians. But that can't possibly make it acceptable, especially when the No. 1 funding mechanism for the rail project is being exploited through systematic fleecing of rail tax collections before any money even makes it to the city.

The ploy was set into motion when the Hawaii Legislature in 2005 passed House Bill 1309 (Act 247) to allow the rail project to advance on Oahu. Beginning in 2007, the half-percentage point increase in the general excise tax, known as the "rail surcharge," has been improperly used to balance the state budget. For the last four years, the state has been collecting an administrative services fee to process the surcharge levied on Oahu purchases.

 

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Shapiro: Schatz is closest thing to a fresh face

A major challenge facing Case, Hana­busa, Hirono and and Hannemann is that among them, they've lost far more big races than they've won and are viewed as retreads by many voters.

The closest thing to a fresh face with the potential to transcend the field is the articulate and ascending Schatz, who is about the same age as Ino­uye was when he was first elected to the Senate and is the only speculated candidate young enough to build the kind of seniority that has served Ino­uye so well.

But it remains to be seen whether Schatz will roll the dice on a Senate run in an unpredictable field and risk his carefully laid plan to make a good impression as LG and put himself in the front-runner position to succeed Abercrombie as governor.

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Crisis: City of Honolulu Personal Service Assistants make $65 per hour

Executive assistants hired temporarily by the City and County of Honolulu make more money than most of their civil engineer, police officer, project manager and chemist counterparts.

According to a quarterly report prepared by the city Department of Human Resources, five executive assistants hired under personal services contracts made or make between $6,848 and $8,750 per month. Another assistant earns $65.78 an hour, but is not a full-time employee.

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Hawaii Lawmakers Pass Employment Protections For Males who choose to wear dresses

Hawaii legalized civil unions this session. Its Senate confirmed a lesbian to the Hawaii Supreme Court.

On Tuesday, the Senate voted 22-2 to extend employment protections to transgender people. The legislation now moves to Gov. Neil Abercrombie's desk where it awaits his signature.

The law codifies prohibitions against discrimination in employment on the basis of gender identity.  (And some people are so stupid that they believe dressing like a fake female is not a choice.)

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VIDEO: OHA Cronies now grub for money from Geothermal

A community meeting offering a “Hawaiian Perspective on Geothermal Development on Hawaii Island” was held this Saturday in Pahoa.

The moderator was Patricia Brandt, the CEO of the Innovations Development Group, or IDG.

IDG promotes a “Native to Native model” for renewable resource energy development. One of the main topics of discussion: possible future models of compensation – or royalties – that the Hawaiian people OHA Cronies may try to enact for the right to develop the island’s geothermal resources.

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OHA Connection?  Fireworks Explosion Contractor tied to Native Hawaiian Affirmative Action Contract

Donaldson Enterprises, Inc. was apparently working under a $150,000 contract from the Treasury Department for “destruction services” involving seized fireworks at the time of Friday’s explosion in a Waikele ammunition tunnel that killed five people.

Donaldson’s contract was a subcontract from a larger $25.9 million prime contract awarded to VSE Corporation for “management storage and disposition of seized forfeited” property. VSE won the prime award on September 28, 2010. The Donaldson subcontract was dated November 10, 2010.

Last year, VSE bought Akimeka LLC, a Native Hawaiian health technology business that had grown rapidly on the basis of extensive federal contracts.

On Sunday, a story on the investment web site, Seeking Alpha, recommended VSE as “a good buy at current price.”

A quick search did not turn up any news reports linking the five deaths to a VSE contract.

The web site, USASpending.gov, lists Donaldson Enterprises as a participant in the 8(a) Program, which gives certain contract preferences to minority or disadvantaged businesses.

8(a) Program Participant, Self-Certified Small Disadvantaged Business, Historically Underutilized Business Zone (HUBZone) Firm, Small Disadvantaged Business, Woman Owned Business, Minority Owned Business, Contracts, Asian-Pacific American Owned Business, For Profit Organization, Service Provider, Architecture and Engineering (A&E)

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House Approves Buying Slaughterhouse

With little opposition, the state House approved passage of Senate Bill 249, which would allow the state to buy a slaughterhouse in Campbell Industrial Park on Oahu.

Joe Souki said he thought the idea set a bad precedent, but Corinne Ching said the purchase would promote locally grown beef and the agriculture industry as well as honor Hawaii's paniolo culture.

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Instant Runoff Voting Heads for Conference Committee

House Bill 638, setting up instant runoff voting for county-level elections, also heads to conference committee.

But a number of senators voted "aye with reservations," suggesting its final passage is far from guaranteed.

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Honolulu Council Advances Property Tax Bills

Chairman Ernie Martin advanced Bill 7, which would provide one-time "property tax relief" for Honolulu homeowners who saw their bills skyrocket last year when the city reclassified some residential zones as commercial or industrial.

Martin's committee also advanced Bills 2, 3 and 4, all relating to the city's property tax exemptions for historic homes.

Budget and Fiscal Services Director Mike Hansen testified in support of Bill 3, which the administration introduced. He said it would clarify existing law to help the city better enforce rules that require exempt homes be maintained, have proper signage and be visible to the public.

Three other property tax related bills that advanced:

  • Bill 25: An amended version proposes adjusting the minimum real property tax at $400.
  • Bill 26: proposes amending property tax exemptions for property used for charitable purpose.
  • Bill 27: proposes adjusting the amounts of certain property tax exemptions, including exemptions for persons who are totally disabled due to military-related

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Honolulu Council Special Meeting on State management of Rail Funds

City Council members are planning to meet on Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. in a special full council meeting, to discuss the state's management of city rail funds.

On the agenda: A resolution to urge the state not to take more than it needs from the city to process Honolulu's GET surcharge. The tax increase was passed to help pay for the city's proposed rail line.

City Council member Tom Berg called for an independent audit to determine how much the state actually needs to process the tax collection. He and other City Council members have said the state is robbing the city by taking more than is necessary.

A press release issued by Berg's office says the council member is "lashing out" in a bipartisan way, and hurling "verbal firebombs across Punchbowl Street from City Hall to the State Capitol."

(This is a negotiating stance for the two-week Legislative conference committee which will determine how the budget is divvied up.)

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Want Lingle Back? Holter cites Abercrombie leadership on “Bee Industry”

The Maui News publisher used his bully pulpit ("Pathetic excuse for leadership," March 31) to criticize our new governor with no substantive or thoughtful insights to elevate the discussion. The publisher even went as far as wishing Linda Lingle were back as governor, when it was Lingle who got us into the mess we're in and leaving it to Gov. Neil Abercrombie to fix.

Already, Abercrombie has instructed all departments to identify the most broken parts of their agencies, to develop new working habits and to implement new policies making the best use of the state's limited resources. Some of the examples of the state doing more with less include:

  • Partnerships (empty talk) with community groups and organizations to develop methods (more empty talk) to combat invasive insects and diseases, including those attacking Hawaii's coffee and bee industries. (Yes he did say this!)
  • Ending outsourcing contracts in the Health and Human Services departments, saving the state millions of dollars and putting these extra responsibilities on state employees.  (see: clinically psychotic)
  • Ending furloughs for employees paid for by federal and special funds, thus providing more services for the public.  (Secret labor agreement)

* Anti-Superferry protester Lance Holter is chairman of the Maui Democratic Party and lives in Paia.  (Anti-Superferry protests led by Maui and Kauai Democrat organizations were a key part of the Party’s 2010 campaign strategy.)

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APEC Preview: Travelers Review Honolulu Airport

I found several other web sites with travelers’ comments about Honolulu Airport.

Here are a few from SkyTrax, billed as “the world’s largest airline review site.”

Inter-island terminal (also used by Hawaiian Airlines flights to the U.S. mainland). The terminal looks like a 1980s time warp. Dark corridors, dirty carpeting, cluttered floor space between jetway and hallway, dirty restrooms, limited concessions and the worst food of any airport in the USA.

***

This airport desperately needs a major overhaul. It amazes me how such a busy airport can be left to deteriorate and not receive any funds to remodel into a modern airport in the pacific. The airport is gloomy and screaming out for a make over.

MORE: Complacent Honolulu out of its league, not ready for APEC

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FACE: Why Hawaii Needs A State Bank

So they can loot it and run it into the ground like their other investment vehicles: VEBA, EUTF, Bishop Estate.

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Symphony accord reached

Yesterday the Symphony Exploratory Committee announced a three-year agreement was reached with musicians of the former Honolulu Symphony Orchestra….

Sidney Quintal, director of the city Department of Enterprise Services, which manages the Blaisdell Concert Hall, said the city is awaiting an application to find out who it is going to contract with and the organization's viability. "That's very critical," said Quintal….

Last month the committee acquired the orchestra's assets with a $210,000 bid at an auction. Assets include about 70 musical instruments, a music library of more than 2,700 classical and local orchestral works, and office equipment.

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A study of single, childless urban workers between the ages of 22 and 30 found that women earned 8% more than men

Recent studies have shown that the wage gap shrinks—or even reverses—when relevant factors are taken into account and comparisons are made between men and women in similar circumstances. In a 2010 study of single, childless urban workers between the ages of 22 and 30, the research firm Reach Advisors found that women earned an average of 8% more than their male counterparts. Given that women are outpacing men in educational attainment, and that our economy is increasingly geared toward knowledge-based jobs, it makes sense that women's earnings are going up compared to men's.

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Bill O'Reilly Debunks Obama Myths: He 'Does Have A Legitimate Birth Certificate'

O'Reilly declares:  "We're going to put this to bed tonight. He does have a legitimate birth certificate. The state of Hawaii says they have it. And we have no reason not to believe that."

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Nearly 300 to depart Marine Corps Base Hawaii for deployment to Afghanistan

The Marine Corps says the Marines and sailors with the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment are to leave Hawaii on Wednesday for a seven-month deployment to Afghanistan's Southern Helmand province. Training and mentoring the Afghan national security forces will be among their tasks.

Overall, about 1,000 Marines and sailors from the unit are to leave for Afghanistan this month.

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