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Wednesday, June 22, 2011
June 22, 2011 News Read
By Andrew Walden @ 1:11 PM :: 10399 Views :: Hawaii County News, Agriculture, Maui County News, Congressional Delegation, Honolulu County News, Democratic Party, Hawaii State Government, Republican Party, National News, Development

Did HSTA boycott Race To The Top Meetings?

Governor signs bill to exempt Broadband Cables from Permitting Requirements

Meet your new Defense Secretary: Leon Panetta's War on Reagan's Defense Policies

Hirono, Akaka: Pension’s Perks for Members With a Past

Abercrombie’s Public Land Development Corporation: Land & Power in Hawaii Pt 2 

Ilind: DBEDT director Richard Lim’s recent speech at a meeting of the Hawaii Economic Association spelled out his view that public lands represent a significant resource and opportunity for private development. Now a bill signed into law by Governor Abercrombie provides muscle to move Lim’s vision towards reality. …

SB1555 CD1, quietly signed into law by the governor on Monday as Act 55, will create a potentially very powerful Public Land Development Corporation to implement Lim’s strategy for privatizing public resources.

Lim will sit on the 5-member board along with the director of Finance and the Land Board chairman. Two additional members will be appointed by the House Speaker and Senate President, and those members must have “sufficient knowledge, experience, and proven expertise in small and large businesses within the development or recreation industries, banking, real estate, finance, promotion, marketing, or management.”

Conservation? Environment? Public interests? No seat at the table.

The new PLDC is charged with selecting land from the state inventory and promoting private development for projects that but are not “limited to office space; vehicular parking; commercial uses; hotel, residential, and timeshare uses; fueling facilities; storage and repair facilities; and seawater air conditioning plants.”

The PLDC is broadly empowered to guarantee loans for developers, issue bonds to finance projects, and take other steps to push for development. It looks like a piggy bank for private investors and developers.

And here’s the kicker–these private developments will be exempt from land use, zoning, and building codes….

Land & Power in Hawaii, Part Two??

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Abercrombie Agenda: More New Taxes to Cover $14B in EUTF Liabilities

The price tag for public employee and retiree health benefits has ballooned to $14 billion over the next three decades — and Hawaii taxpayers can expect to pay more taxes to cover the burden.

Kalbert Young, the state's budget director, says he's taking seriously the Hawaii Employer-Union Health Benefits Trust Fund's unfunded liability — which has risen nearly $4 billion in two years.

"Taxpayers have to be realistic that these liabilities are very, very large — and the public hasn't even begun to pay for them yet," said Kalbert Young, director of the Department of Budget and Finance, referring to both EUTF and public pensions.

He's ramping up an "intelligence program" to educate lawmakers on what needs to be done. Young says he didn't have enough time to research options and educate lawmakers this past legislative session. He was appointed by Gov. Neil Abercrombie in November….

To put that number in perspective: $14 billion amounts to more than $10,000 for every man, woman and child in Hawaii.

"It's important for taxpayers to be cognizant that whatever concepts are proposed in the near future, some of them will likely entail actual expense, meaning that you're going to have to pay more taxes," Young said. "Or, a bigger part of state government will have to be put toward the unfunded liability — and that will come at the expense of other government programs."

For benefits payments alone — not considering the liability — lawmakers have approved a $502.5 million budget for the EUTF for the 2012 fiscal year. That's up 7 percent, or $33 million, over this year.

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Our Imperial Governor

Gov. Neil Abercrombie came roaring into office talking about the state's greatest resource being its people and how their potential needs to be tapped.

Then, without warning and without telling the public anything, the governor asked for the resignations of 28 appointees to key public boards and commissions, most serving in unpaid positions.

This, from a governor who promised, "I am determined to be truthful with everybody about what we have to do together to survive."

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Appointee: “I’m Here for the Long Haul”

He said the letter came as a "shock," because he thought he and the other Lingle appointees had been working well with other board members and administration staff. He said he believed public housing issues were "not political."

"The problems of public housing are really well-known, and we're all working to resolve them," he said.

Thompson also noted that only four members of the 11-person commission were Lingle appointments.

"The governor already has the opportunity to appoint seven of the 11," Thompson said….

"I made a commitment," he said. "I was appointed by the governor, confirmed by the Senate, twice. I'm here for the long haul. And I kind of have the feeling that there's a need for some continuity."

Former Land Use Commissioner Charles Jencks, who was appointed to serve the remainder of Randy Piltz's term on the Land Use Commission when Piltz resigned to run for mayor, said he applied for an appointment to a full term but was not chosen.

He said Tuesday that Abercrombie's move "doesn't work to the benefit of the people of Hawaii and it isn't to the benefit of the folks who pay the bills."

He added, "As short a time as I spent on the commission, I can tell you for a certainty, these people take their position very seriously."

AP: Abercrombie’s own appointees weren't asked to step down

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Abercrombie doesn't announce every bill signing

That’s in contrast to his predecessor, whose press office diligently chronicled every bill signing and veto and emailed notices on a regular basis.

So it escaped my notice when he signed one particular bill that I had been following during the session.

Senate Bill 754 suspends general excise tax exemptions for the construction, airline and shipping industries, among others, for two years, starting July 1. Abercrombie signed it into law on June 9, so it’s now known as Act 105….

There was no email announcing the bill had become law, and the governor’s press secretary, Donalyn Dela Cruz, confirmed that her office is not sending notifications about every bill.

Lucky for members of the media — not to mention the public — everything the Hawaii Legislature does is online these days. A list of every bill that Abercrombie has signed this year can be found here.

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Progressives: SB1274 Will Gut Hawaii Patients Bill of Rights

Senate Bill 1274 passed the 2011 Legislature with little opposition from lawmakers and now awaits the governor's action.

The bill is intended to provide "uniform standards for external review procedures based on the National Association of Insurance Commissioners Uniform Health Carrier External Review Model Act, to comply with the requirements of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010."

But some concerned folks, including Rafael del Castillo and Evan Shirley, want the governor to veto the bill. They've scheduled a meeting at 4:30 p.m. today at Room 417 in the Capitol, where they hope to speak directly with the administration about their concerns.

The arguments are complicated, but essentially opponents of SB 1274 fear that, should the measure become law, Hawaii's Patients' Bill of Rights and Responsibilities Act will be eviscerated. They say the bill is also legally flawed.

Abercrombie has been pushing this a long time:  Health Insurance? No need: Abercrombie promises to dump Prepaid Health Care Act

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Squeezed by Low Reimbursements and High Regulations, Hawaii Medical Center filing for bankruptcy protection

This is the second time that HMC has filed for Chapter 11. The hospitals filed for bankruptcy protection in August 2008, about 18 months after acquiring the hospitals from St. Francis Healthcare System. HMC emerged from bankruptcy in August 2010 following the approval of its reorganization plan.

Despite efforts to strengthen its financial viability, HMC was unable to overcome obstacles that impacted financial performance such as static patient census, federal regulatory requirements and reductions in reimbursements.

"Ultimately, it came down to simply not having sufficient capital for HMC to turn the corner," explained Dang. "In order to increase patient census and keep pace with new government requirements, we needed to make infrastructure improvements. Not being part of a larger healthcare system makes it difficult for us to continue as a stand-alone operation."

PBN: Hawaii Medical Center files Chapter 11 bankruptcy — again

SA: HMC files for second bankruptcy

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Carlisle Vetoes Council's Transit Authority Budget

I am disheartened that the mayor doesn't seem to be interested in compromise," City Council member Ikaika Anderson told Civil Beat Tuesday. "The council needs to gather six votes at least to override the mayor's veto. That could happen in the next council meeting, or it could happen in a special council meeting. Whether or not we're going to override, I couldn't tell you."

Anderson pointed out that Carlisle's refusal to allow council members' senior staffers into a press conference he called to announce his vetoes as a sign that the mayor doesn't want to meet the council in the middle.

"That shows a total lack of compromise and cohesiveness on the part of the administration," Anderson said. "I'm floored by his lack of cooperation. The man wouldn't even allow our staffs to sit in on the press conference. I think that's the administration giving a clear signal that they have no interest in working with the council."…

Martin, who is expected to replace Garcia as council chairman in July, has spoken in blunt terms about the likelihood of suing the administration in order to retain authority over HART's budget. As Budget Committee chairman, Martin led the way in passing a council version of the agency's first spending plan….

City lawyers represent both the executive and legislative branches of city government, and Carlisle said the administration would not seek private counsel in the event of a lawsuit over HART. Corporation Counsel could not be reached for questions Tuesday afternoon.

Asked whether a lawsuit that could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars would be worth it, Carlisle said without hesitation: "Yes."

SA: Lawsuits loom as vetoes set showdown on rail spending

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Public Gets little from Martin, Harimoto Junket to Copenhagen

instead of providing the public with specific questions and answers about Ansaldo's record in other cities, Breene Harimoto and Ernie Martín produced a fact-finding document that reads like a book report.

Take, for example, this observation:

"It’s not only how well you build a system that counts, but how well you operate and maintain it."

Or the finding that it will be "important to work in partnership with Ansaldo and to facilitate timely communications to address issues."

How about the remark that it might be prudent to purchase insurance to cover the shipping of train vehicles from Italy to Honolulu? Did Council members really need to travel halfway around the world to figure that one out?

Both City Council members told Civil Beat that the trip was worthwhile, and they were glad to have gone. But the report they produced does little to justify the cost to taxpayers.

By the way, we still don't know how much they spent. Seven weeks and counting, Harimoto and Martin have yet to file their expense reports.

Shapiro: Mayor, council heading to court on rail

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Abercrombie’s New BoE: No More Subsidies For After-School Kids In Hawaii

The education budget squeeze is hitting Hawaii families again. Families with multiple children in the After-School Plus Program will no longer get a break on fees….

"We do not consider (A+) part of the core educational program," explained Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi when she presented the proposal to the Hawaii State Board of Education.. "It's always been very clear that it's about taking care of kids after school, which is important, but it's not part of our core mission."

The board approved the recommendation at its regular meeting Tuesday.

 

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Finnegan Appointed To Hawaii Charter School Review Panel

Lynn Finnegan, who lost her bid for lieutenant-governor in 2010 with Republican gubernatorial candidate James "Duke" Aiona, was appointed Tuesday to Hawaii's Charter School Review Panel.

The Board of Education appoints the review panel members, of which there are 11 total. Finnegan will fill one of six empty seats for the next three years.

Three others were appointed Tuesday, including board member Jim Williams, who will fill the Board of Education's designated seat on the panel. Williams, a co-founder of Voyager Public Charter School, said he resigned from his position as a trustee at the school to eliminate any potential conflicts of interest in his new role on the panel.

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SA: Supreme Court is right, but we want to control your family anyway

The state Supreme Court has rightly given a man a second trial allowing a jury to decide whether the striking of his stepson was justifiable discipline; the trial judge had refused to allow the defense attorney to use that as a defense. The high court focused squarely on a defendant's right to present a defense, no matter how weak the evidence might be, in making its sound technical ruling. But its split 3-2 decision raises a deeper societal issue: the extremely hazy question of what qualifies legally as parental discipline versus child abuse.

Previous court cases reveal a wide range of outcomes in determining discipline or abuse, and dissenting Hawaii justices in the aforementioned defense decision thought the use of force was not acceptable parental discipline. Perhaps the time has come to acknowledge the fine line — and quick escalation — between discipline and domestic violence, and reassess what legally constitutes parental corporal punishment.  (In other words, one more excuse for a social worker to take over your family.)

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DHHL Homesteaders Delinquent on Maui, Big Island Property Taxes

As of Tuesday, the county was owed $1.61 million in back taxes, penalties and interest levied on 176 of the DHHL's Big Island properties, according to a report Sitko generated at the Tribune-Herald's request. Basic taxes account for $564,727 of that total.

Each of the leased parcels has been delinquent at least three years, he said, noting the county hasn't collected any money on several since before signing the 2002 agreement with the DHHL….

The issue extends to the other Neighbor Islands, but it appears Hawaii County is owed the most money….

Those provisions mirror Maui County's laws. Property taxes have not been paid on roughly 1,200 DHHL properties within Maui County, generating a total delinquency that exceeds $500,000, said Scott Teruya, Maui's real property tax administrator.

The tax debt couldn't be obtained Tuesday from Kauai County, which imposes the minimum $25 fee and only after the first seven years of a DHHL lease.

The City and County of Honolulu doesn't tax homestead properties, according to information Sitko provided.

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City Asking Firefighters, Police For 5% Pay Cut

The city is asking both firefighters and police officers to agree to five-percent wage cuts, sources said. Police and firefighters have gotten raises over the last two years, while other public employees have been on unpaid furloughs or had their salaries cut by five percent or more.

Sources familiar with negotiations said the city has not raised the possibility of layoffs for firefighters or police officers.

But when KITV4 News asked about the potential for layoffs, Mayor Peter Carlisle said, "There's the potential of anything and everything that's on the table regarding those. As you know, in the mainland, there have been layoffs of both firefighters and police officers."

Sources said the biggest sticking point between the firefighters’ union, the Hawaii Firefighters Association, and the city of Honolulu, is management rights, like staffing issues, rather than the city's attempt to cut its nearly 1,100 members’ wages by five percent.

A source close to police negotiations said the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers -- the police union -- is asking for no raise, instead of the five-percent salary reduction the city is proposing for police officers.

Carlisle said other cities and counties on the mainland have confronted a number of problems, like what he called "unsustainable benefit packages."

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Judge dismisses assault charge against HPD captain

An Oahu judge on Tuesday dismissed an assault charge against a Honolulu police captain after the alleged victim failed to appear for trial.

Capt. Mark Ward, who's assigned to HPD's Homeland Security Division, was accused of attacking a teenaged water polo player at a meet last year. The 18-year-old told investigators that she suffered pain and redness to her face after Ward struck her with the handle of his umbrella.

Both the prosecution and the defense say they were ready to start trial Tuesday. But the complainant didn't show up at Ewa District Court to testify.

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Police officer pleads no contest to third time of driving without license

Honolulu District Judge Dean E. Ochiai fined Kamikawa $500 and ordered him to pay $47 in fees. Ochiai could have fined Kamikawa, 54, to up $1,000 and sentenced him to a year in jail.

Kamikawa was driving his mother's car March 20 when he hit another vehicle, said Kelsi Guerra, deputy city prosecutor. Kamikawa asked the other motorist, whom he knows through his work as a police officer, not to report the incident, Guerra said.

Kamikawa had previously pleaded no contest to twice operating a vehicle while his license was under revocation for drunken driving. The March incident was not counted as his third offense — which would have qualified him for higher penalties including a year in jail and permanent license revocation — because the period of revocation had expired.

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Fitch, Moody’s GO Bond Rating Downgrade to Impact Hawaii Taxpayers

 

What that means for Hawaii taxpayers is it will cost more to borrow money through general obligation bonds. These bonds, which are backed by the state taxpayers, are secured by loan payments subject to legislative appropriation. Hawaii typically uses these bonds to fund infrastructure projects and repairs.

But how much will the downgrades costs the Hawaii taxpayers?

When the state issues between $500 million and $650 million in GO bonds this fall to fund state projects, Young estimated in a May 23 interview that it will likely cost taxpayers an additional $1 million to $2 million. Now with the Fitch Rating also downgraded, it could cost even more, but predicting how much more is a challenge:

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Foodland Fight

Turn Lahaina Sewage into Electricity

Bart O'Keeffe, an engineer working in the field of electrical generation since 1960, has a proposal to deal with the county's troublesome sewage effluent in West Maui - make electricity out of it.

The proposal of his United Power Corp. is exploratory so far, but following a meeting with county officials last week, O'Keeffe said he was encouraged enough to prepare to open a permanent office on Maui, and county Energy Commissioner Doug McLeod was ready to hear more.

The proposal is for a pumped storage generating plant. Water - in this case, reclaimed water from the Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility - would be pumped about four miles up Honokowai Gulch, stored in a reservoir at the 1,600-foot elevation and released when needed to develop 30 megawatts of hydropower.

The West Maui idea, though, is "very definitely" one the county wants to hear more about and that aligns with internal discussions the county had already had about disposing of effluent in Lahaina, he said.…getting the effluent up rather than putting it down injection wells could offer a savings.

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Reputable dog breeders support accountability

With media attention focused on puppy mills, what might be missed in the discussion is the important role reputable breeders play in providing potential pet owners with healthy, well-tempered, purebred animals….

As a reputable breeder and animal-protection advocate, I support laws that hold breeders accountable. Earlier this year, I testified in favor of Senate Bill 1522, a measure to license and regulate commercial breeders who sell more than 25 dogs a year (or who have more than 20 unsterilized females or 30 unsterilized dogs). This bill would not affect small-scale hobby breeders.

I also supported House Bill 243, which would have required pet stores to sell only altered/sterilized cats and dogs. This policy is crucial to controlling animal overpopulation and would not affect reputable breeders who would never sell animals through a pet store.

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US-China Diplomatic Meeting in Honolulu this Weekend

China is not responsible for causing disputes in the South China Sea, Vice-Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai said on Tuesday.

Cui was addressing questions on what message China will send to the upcoming first round of China-US consultations on the Asia-Pacific region, which will start on Saturday in Honolulu, Hawaii, according to Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV….

Cui and US Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell will co-host the consultations, and the two countries will exchange views on the situation in the region and other issues of mutual concern.

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USS Charleston captures Guam from Spain on June 21, 1898

During the Spanish-American war the USS Charleston jumped back into service and left the San Francisco Bay to travel to Honolulu with three chartered steamers. The USS Charleston was tasked with raiseing the American flag on Guam; which was currently held by Spain. The Spanish authorities who were stationed on Guam were not aware there was a war in progress. When the USS Charleston fired a challenge at a fort on Guam, Fort Santa Cruz, the Spanish authorities at the location apologized to the ship for not having gunpowder in order to return what they thought was a friendly salute. They were in a state of shock when they learned the Americans had arrived on Guam in order to take over the island.

The Spanish surrendered on June 21, 1898, allowing the USS Charleston to raise the American flag on Guam.

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Obama Gets only 30% of Americans Certain to Support Re-Election in Economy Poll

Americans are growing more dissatisfied with President Barack Obama’s handling of the economy and say it will be hard to vote to re-elect him without seeing significant progress over the next year and a half.

By a margin of 61 percent to 37 percent, a Bloomberg National Poll conducted June 17-20 shows Americans say they believe that Obama will have had his chance to make the economy “substantially better” by the end of 2012.

Only 30 percent of respondents said they are certain to vote for the president and 36 percent said they definitely won’t. Among likely independent voters, only 23 percent said they will back his re-election, while 36 percent said they definitely will look for another candidate.

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