Shell Game: Rail Costs down, but Handi-van getting $1.15B?
Honolulu Council Unanimously Opposes Instant Runoff Voting
Slavery: Federal Suit targets A&B, ML&P Farms
Missile Defense: Hawaii Five-O
Gulen Cult trying to bribe Legislators with Free Trip to Turkey
Hawaii lawmakers have been invited on an all-expense paid "Intercultural Dialogue" trip to Turkey.
But Hawaii State Ethics Commission Executive Director Les Kondo sent out a memo to politicians Tuesday, urging lawmakers to check with the commission before booking a seat on the trip.
"The State Ethics Commission understands that legislators may have received invitations from the Pacifica Institute to participate in a trip to the Republic of Turkey," the memo began. "With respect to the Pacifica Institute's invitation, the State Ethics Commission does not have sufficient understanding of Pacifica Institute, the purpose of the trip, or the state 'benefit' associated with the trip..."
The trip offer is an extreme example of the kind of benefits thrown lawmakers' way.
The 11-day excursion, from May 13-24, is being cosponsored by the Pacifica Institute, a nonprofit with a mission "to promote cross-cultural awareness, in order to attain peace and diversity with our neighbors, help establish a better society where individuals love, respect and accept each other as they are," according to the invitation obtained by Civil Beat.
Excluding airfare and Visa costs, the invitation says sponsoring members of BAKIAD, a "Turkey-based businessmen association," will cover "accommodation in 3, 4 or 5 star hotels and traveling expenses such as bus transportation, meals, and museum/historical site visits in Turkey."
Hawaii-Turkey Resolution adopted without any reference to Gulen Cult front Groups: http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/session2011/bills/HR30_HD1_.pdf
Conference Committee Starting with Tax Hikes
State House and Senate negotiators opened conference committee negotiations tonight on the budget with the goal of having a final draft ready by next Tuesday….
The most significant difference between the House and Senate drafts involves labor savings: the House did not set aside any money — so as not to be seen as interfering in collective bargaining talks between Gov. Neil Abercrombie and public-sector labor unions – while the Senate presumed the equivalent of the existing two furlough days a month.
Abercrombie and the Hawaii Government Employees Association, the state’s largest public-sector union, have tentatively agreed to a two-year contract with a 5 percent pay cut – equal to about one furlough day a month….
“But, as we all know, this budget cannot stand alone,” Oshiro said. “And that’s why this evening I will suggest that we begin the budget conference deliberations by coming to some agreement or understanding on nearly a dozen revenue-generating bills which could raise nearly $300 million in annual revenues which are necessary to balance the budget.”
Here are some of the key bills:
- *SB754 – Temporarily suspends general excise tax exemptions on targeted business activities and imposes a 4 percent GET on those activities for two years.
- *SB570 – Imposes a pension tax on higher-income retirees; repeals a state income tax deduction on higher-income taxpayers; caps itemized deductions; delays an increase in the standard deduction and personal exemption.
- *SB756 – Revises a renewable energy tax credit; repeals an income tax exemption for stock options.
- *SB1186 – Caps hotel-room tax revenue that goes to counties and the Hawaii Tourism Authority; raises the hotel-room tax on timeshares.
- *SB741 – Raises the liquor tax by 20 percent.
SA: Don’t Count Deployed Military when redistricting
The math here can be tricky. In 2001 there was a dispute over whether to count nonresident military dependents who are posted in Hawaii in each district population. Ultimately, after a lawsuit threat, the old commission made the right choice and excluded them as well as another transient cohort: college students living away from the district. The state Constitution dictates that only "permanent residents" are counted, so it's hard to see how these two groups qualify.
The state Office of Elections has posted an informative "guide to redistricting" on its website (www.hawaii.gov/elections/reapportionment) that explains the principles. Ideally, districts should be compact, both geometrically and geographically. They should be contiguous (the remaining canoe districts are the notable exceptions). And they should preserve socio-economic communities as much as possible. The commission should see that the electoral clout of communities isn't "submerged" by dividing them among two or more districts.
And the community needs to watch to make sure the commission is adhering to these principles as much as it can. The commission is on a 150-day deadline; the proposed plan is due on Day 100, with the remaining time devoted to public comments.
State tax collections fall short of prediction—or do they? (more tax hike propaganda)
State tax collections are down by 5.5 percent through the first nine months of the fiscal year, the state Department of Taxation reported.
Revenue would have increased 0.3 percent if not for the impact of former Gov. Linda Lingle's decision to delay income tax refunds last year.
Still, collections appear to be falling short of the latest projection by the state Council on Revenues. The council has predicted that revenue will decline 1.6 percent for the fiscal year that ends in June. (Is that WITH or WITHOUT the refunds factored in?)
Gov. Neil Abercrombie and state lawmakers are closely following the monthly revenue figures as they try to close a projected two-year budget deficit of $1.3 billion. (And we are happy to help put pressure on the Leg for Tax Increases.)
Golden Week loses some luster in Hawaii (more tax hike propaganda)
Golden Week in Hawaii will lose some of its shine this year. Japan Airlines originally had 25 charter flights scheduled, but it will only offer 19, along with four from Korean Air. (19+4 = 23, so only two flights were lost)
"This is in addition to the scheduled service, of which we have seen some cancellation on scheduled service flights, but overall I think the market is holding together pretty well," said David Uchiyama of the Hawaii Tourism Authority. (How about the Abercrombie admin case for tax hikes? How’s that holding together?)
House Clashes Over Saving Hawaii Health-Care Law
The state House passed a bill Tuesday designed to keep the landmark Hawaii Prepaid Health Care Act intact in light of recent federal legislation.
But 14 House members — six Democrats and all eight Republicans — voted against House Bill 1134, in spite of their commitment to the 1974 act.
The disagreement over the bill centers in part on perceptions of political maneuvering. There is also concern that HB 1134 might actually end up hurting Hawaii's health law, the first in the nation to set minimum standards of health-care benefits for workers.
Late Wednesday the House Minority Caucus released a statement critical of the passage of HB 1134.
House Republican Leader Gene Ward said in the release, "This bill, passed by the House yesterday, will jeopardize the superior Hawaii healthcare by repealing a portion of the 1973 law, subjecting Hawaii's program to a potential legal challenge."
"The Attorney General also continues to have doubts about this bill," Rep. Cynthia Thielen said in the statement.
Rep. Barbara Marumoto told Civil Beat that, while the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations supports the bill, it also said passage of HB 1134 could "trigger" ERISA.
"They said that, and the (Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs) did not say diddly-poop — he just deferred to Department of Labor," she said. "And the AG's testimony the first time said the bill was dangerous. The next time they came in, (Democratic Rep.) Scott Saiki pointed out that their testimony was exactly the same but instead of saying the AG was opposed they just changed one word to say they are not opposed."
Marumoto continued: "So, we are saying we don't want to kill the bill, but that we should all just take a deep breath, assess the situation, talk to some legal beagles. Why take a chance with our Prepaid Health Care Law?"
True Colors: HSTA Freaks out over last minute Effort to save 180-day bill
The optimistic talk about everybody working together to improve Hawaii's schools went out the window Wednesday.
The Hawaii State Teachers Association went on the warpath against the chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee.
Jill Tokuda said she was "upset and disappointed" by the union's effort to shut down her attempt to increase class time for students.
The drama started Wednesday morning when the union sent out an email encouraging members to protest Tokuda's proposal.
"We have just been blindsided by Senator Jill Tokuda," the email states. "She is amending the bill that delayed implementation of Act 167. Her amendment means Act 167 will begin next school year and may add two additional instructional days and/or more instructional hours to the school calendar. The implication is that this comes without compensation." (NONSENSE. HSTA negotiations are now underway. There is no reason to expect this 180 day law is not a factor in negotiations.)
By 2 p.m. Wednesday, she had received hundreds of calls and more than 1,200 emails from teachers. The senator's office phone was ringing "off the hook," she said.
SA: Longer work day without more pay dismays schoolteachers, union (Union’s “without more pay” lie is SA’s headline)
Hawaii Leads effort to Protect Transsexual Preschool Teachers
Even the Hawaii Chamber of Commerce didn't oppose the measure, though it did raise concerns about workplace dress and grooming standards as well as bathroom and locker room usage.
Here's an example from the chamber's written testimony:
The employee in question should be held to only one gender and not change back and forth on a day-to-day basis. There should be consistency in the appearance of the employee. For example, if a male pre-school teacher were to dress up as a female one day and not the next, how does that impact the students and how do they address the teacher?
The chamber suggested the bill be amended to include language addressing such concerns, but the proposal was not adopted by lawmakers.
In the final floor votes for HB 546, only four House members voted "no" — Republicans Gene Ward, Gil Riviere, George Fontaine and Aaron Johanson — as did two senators, Republican Sam Slom and Democrat Mike Gabbard.
HB 546 defines gender equity in this way:
"'Gender identity or expression' includes a person's actual or perceived gender, as well as a person's gender identity, gender-related self-image, gender-related appearance, or gender-related expression, regardless of whether that gender identity, gender-related self-image, gender-related appearance, or gender-related expression is different from that traditionally associated with the person's sex at birth."
Nationally, Hawaii Sen. Daniel Akaka is the co-sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would prohibit job discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
The bill, introduced last week, would do the following, according to a press release from Akaka's office:
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2011 would prohibit employers, employment agencies, labor organizations and joint labor-management committees from firing, refusing to hire, or discriminating against those employed or seeking employment, on the basis of their perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity. Such protections are already in place prohibiting discrimination based on race, religion, gender, national origin, age, and disability.
HR: Equality Hawaii, Human Rights Campaign Commend Hawaii Legislature for Passing Transgender Employment Protections
Legislators should cut spending instead of increasing tobacco taxes
The motivation behind these new taxes appears to be revenue as the new monies may not be used for tobacco-cessation programs. In fact, while a percentage of the proposed tax is directed toward the trauma system special fund, it is one of numerous special funds marked to be raided by Senate Bill 120 to pad the general fund.
First, studies show that up to 85 percent of changes in after-tax sales of cigarettes are the result of tax avoidance behavior and not of quitting. Second, part of that tax avoidance involves substituting cheaper "roll your own" smokes that can be rolled without filters, which increase ingestion of tar and nicotine by the smoker. Lastly, studies show smokeless tobacco is a legitimate harm-reduction strategy, so hiking taxes on smokeless products may do more health harm than good.
A 2002 study in the British Royal College of Physicians reported that "smokeless tobacco products are 10 to 1,000 times less hazardous than smoking, depending on the product."
(The State is now Senior partner in the Tobacco Industry. Why would they let smokers switch to smokeless cigs when there are taxes to be collected?)
Preserve the tobacco prevention fund for its intended purpose
On April 12, the state House voted to advance Senate Bill 120, which will disassemble the state's comprehensive tobacco control program. Currently, SB 120 proposes to take $42 million by diverting the tobacco company payments to, and raiding the assets of the Tobacco Prevention and Control Trust Fund over the next three fiscal years to balance the state's budget deficit.
(The State is now Senior partner in the Tobacco Industry. Why would they let tobacco cessation programs interfere with their revenues?)
Rise in city gas tax makes it through Council hearing
The Council has until mid-June to complete work on the budget for the 2012 fiscal year that begins July 1. Mayor Peter Carlisle has proposed a $1.932 billion operating budget for fiscal 2012, up $114 million from the current fiscal year.
Budget Chairman Ernie Martin has voiced concerns about the fuel tax from the beginning because of its impact on rural residents, but said he also was leery of the state Legislature potentially scooping up a portion of the county's traditional share of funds.
State lawmakers are considering a proposal to cap the amount of hotel-room tax money going to counties, but could dip deeper into those funds — about $40 million for Oahu — as they work to balance the state budget by the end of next week.
"Until they recess, I think we need to leave all options on the table," Martin said.
The fuel tax proposal passed 7-2, with Councilmen Ikaika Anderson and Tom Berg voting in opposition.
Council members question direction of rail authority
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Planning, awarding contracts and even some construction is already underway for Honolulu's rail transit, but the authority overseeing the project hasn't officially started working and some city leaders are questioning the process.
For now the Honolulu City Council approved the more than $21 million budget for the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation or HART. But before the next vote the council has concerns about that money.
"It sounded like having the authority would be a good thing with not a lot of costs, but now we're finding out its $21 million," said Ann Kobayashi, Honolulu City Councilmember.
"What are they going to be doing, how many people does it take to set the fare to get on that rail," said Tom Berg, Honolulu City Councilmember….
"So if we're going to have 110 people, are they going to be reading blueprints? Are they engineers? Are they dealing with the sounds and noise and vibrations, dealing with the iwi, what's their expertise? As far as I'm concerned the 110 plus positions predominantly are folks to help pitch and sell this product. They don't have the expertise to help advance the best system for us," said Berg.
Berg claims that goes up to the top with the recently nominated HART board members.
"Of the six names that were advanced I don't think one of them could read a blueprint. I don't think any of them meet the criteria of which were defined of how you can be on that board," said Berg.
Fired Honolulu Employee: Lax Oversight Led to Overtime 'Free-for-All'
Domingo was a street sweeper in the city's Road Maintenance Division within the Honolulu Department of Facility Maintenance. His supervisor, Manuel Castro, was found guilty of running an overtime scam in which Castro would assign unearned overtime hours to employees, without their knowledge, and then ask for kickbacks. Three employees, including Domingo, pleaded guilty or no contest to theft in connection with the case. A supervisor also pleaded guilty to theft.
"Back then it was a free-for-all, all the overtime was just going through, and that allowed Castro to take advantage of what he was doing," Domingo told Civil Beat.
Allegations against Castro came to light in 2008 when two city employees, who were not involved in the case, blew the whistle, which led to a Honolulu Police Department investigation. Castro was sentenced to a one-year prison term.
In a transcript of a December 2008 police interview with Castro, Castro took full responsibility for the crime, and asked police not to charge the three subordinates who were assigned unearned overtime.
Castro told police: "I no like you guys drag them in. They no even know they was accepting, and, you know what I'm saying, but you guys going have to drag them in, yeah?"
The police report stated that while Castro had falsified the time sheets, the employees were at fault for not returning the unearned compensation to the city knowing it was stolen. The three subordinates were paid for between 203 and 620 unearned overtime hours, according to police reports.
Domingo told Civil Beat he feels employees were subject to an environment where they were afraid to come forward with allegations of wrongdoing.
"I was afraid to come forward, thinking that the administration won't do anything," he said. "I was afraid of retaliation. Now, looking back, you just have to let the higher ups know what's going on."
CB: Overtime Whistleblowers: Honolulu Didn't Listen To Complaints the First Time
Maui Council Member: High Taxes are used to discourage Business (and this is an argument FOR tax hikes)
But Council Member Riki Hokama said critics should understand the historical context for Maui's property tax policies. He said the county used property tax rates in part to encourage some industries and limit others. Time-share developers should see the high tax rate as a "signal" that the county was reluctant to see more expansion of the industry.
"Fairness is only one component of this debate," he said. "The other part of it is land-use policy."
The Right Price: A Few Favors For Neil’s Favorites?
If you’ve followed the collective bargaining history in Hawaii over the past 40 years or so, you were probably dazzled by the newly introduced term “favored nation.”…
HGEA members are being offered nine days of paid leave, not furloughs, in gratitude for accepting a 5-10 percent pay cut and an increase in their medical insurance premium. One of the critics of the idea referred to it as fuzzy math. It’s more than fuzzy, it is a form of informal collusion….
It may be that the union leaders don’t realize that the word “favored” doesn’t sit well with taxpayers who already fear that unions have a favored status with the legislature and other powerful politicians. Being treated fairly is all anyone can wish for in these tough economic times. Favored is way too close to favorite and favors to help the public union’s image with taxpayers. Neither taxpayers nor union members need any new tricky language added to the process. If the word furloughs bother the members of the legislature, then so should favored nation.
Favorite or favored nation. Does that mean favors for public unions or favorite political power source.
Mufi Launches Column, Discovers Tourism is Big in Hawaii
Tourism creates jobs in the tens of thousands and generates the billions of dollars in revenue that support our educational system. (This guy is a sharp one, doesn’t miss a thing!)
Daily KOS: Hirono, Hanabusa start off slow in Senate race
HI-Sen: Very slow fundraising quarters from Reps. Mazie Hirono and Colleen Hanabusa, despite Dan Akaka's retirement announcement on March 2. Hirono raised around $100K and has $291K on hand, while Hanabusa took in a mere $33K and has only $72K in the bank.
More interestingly, despite Ed Case's attempts at rapprochement, Sen. Dan Inouye still has hard feelings about Case's primary challenge to Akaka in 2006—and he didn't hesitate to say so in a recent interview. He all but said that Case lied to his face when he asked him lo those many years ago if he'd run against Akaka, and then added a few remarks that made it sounds like Case had definitely not succeeded in making amends. So unless Inouye is playing some weirdly deep game here, then it looks like my fears that he'd subtly back Case seem unfounded. Good.
Boylan: A Campaign That’s Here Too Soon
US, S. Korea Sign Agreement on Missile Defense System Development: Pentagon
The United States has signed an agreement with South Korea for the development of a missile defense system against North Korea, which is believed to have developed ballistic missiles carrying nuclear warheads capable of hitting the U.S. mainland.
Mainland Firm Accused of Embezzling City Money
The City Council today passed two resolutions authorizing legal action against the Iowa company, Whitehall Funding, Inc., and other firms involved in processing mortgage payments for the Kulana Nani housing complex on Kahuhipa Street.
City spokeswoman Louise Kim McCoy said the missing funds total up to $800,000. The legal actions will have no affect on residents at the Kulana Nani rental project, she said.
After Obama’s sister Hired, Administration stops trying to cut E-W Center Funds
Among the survivors this year was the East-West Center, a Honolulu nonprofit that has long been one of the budget’s great immortals.
The center runs exchange programs for U.S. and Asian journalists and young professionals, conducts research and offers scholarships to study at the University of Hawaii. For 2010, President Obama’s budget proposed reducing its federal funding from $21 million to $12 million, arguing that this would encourage the center to seek other sources for money.
That went nowhere. The center has a powerful ally in Congress: Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii), the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Instead of shrinking by millions, the center’s subsidy went up by $2 million.
This year, the Republican-controlled House tried again. In February, it voted to strip $10.7 million, half the center’s budget.
Once again, the center mainly escaped the ax. After the House and Senate worked out a final deal, its budget had fallen by about $2 million — basically losing the money it had picked up a year earlier.
The center now also has a direct tie to Obama, whose half-sister, Maya Soetero-Ng, was hired about a year ago to work as a part-time educator. Her work is paid for by private funds.
An administration official said the White House has not pushed for the center’s budget to be cut this year, saying it is focused on disputes over bigger-ticket items. The White House said Soetero-Ng’s connection had nothing to do with this.
A spokesman for Inouye said only that the senator “has been a strong supporter of the East-West Center since its inception.”
“This is the year we thought it would change. It’s the same-old, same-old in the Senate, financial crisis or not,” said Rep. Edward R. Royce (R-Calif.), who supported the amendment to reduce the center’s funding. “For every dollar we spend on this talk-shop, we borrow another 42 cents.”
RELATED: Hanabusa, Hirono silent as E-W Center Funding Cut by Congress
HCC Chancellor Candidates Interviewed
The last candidate to address the forum attendees, Yamane was candid in discussing the road that led her to the interim chancellorship and the ups and downs of her experiences at HCC.
Yamane said that she had been offered a position as the vice chancellor for administrative affairs at HCC after serving as an interim replacement in the position, but she turned it down because she felt she wasn't ready at the time.
Now, however, Yamane said she has the experience she needs to take the reins at HCC.
"I think, maybe, this is the right time for me," she said. "It took me a little while longer to get here, but here I am."
Yamane said that among her accomplishments while at the helm, she has managed to help the school maintain its own curriculum, apart from that of UH-Hilo, while also building a better working relationship with the university's new chancellor, Donald Straney.
"We want to work together," she said. "We don't want to fight. ... We have a great institution right next to us, and we need to strengthen that relationship. It's no good for us to be 'Us vs. Them.' With his (Straney's) help, we're going to change that. It's beginning to happen already."
RELATED: Greenwood Mafia grabs two power positions in UH system
DOH: Waikiki restaurant one of 55 bed bug complaints in state
The customer said that after ten minutes in the restaurant, her legs and hands got itchy.
"Because it's not something where there's a public health significance where there's disease transmission, it doesn't warrant things like fines or closures or anything like that," said Peter Oshiro of the Hawaii State Health Department.
Lu Lu's general manager released a statement saying it has always employed a very aggressive pest control program and that "It is an unfortunate situation that many local restaurants and hotels have been dealing with."
So far this year, the Health Department has received 55 bed bug complaints throughout the state.
(DDT is the most effective means of bedbug eradication and prevention. It is particularly satisfying to see environmentalists infested with bedbugs. It is a small vengeance for the genocide they have inflictred on the 3rd world by allowing Malaria to spread unchecked.)
Foie Gras Removed from Glamorous Maui Event After Animal Liberations Nuts outdo themselves in Sanctimony
MAUI, Hawaii, April 20, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Four Seasons Resort in Maui has removed foie gras from its upcoming $350 per person Opus One Wine Dinner after being contacted by the Animal Protection & Rescue League (APRL).
Married and in Hawaii, paroled killer complies with parole
"He's compliant with all the terms and conditions of both the Illinois parole and ours," said Tommy Johnson of the parole authority. "He's reporting in every two weeks."
Boulay, now 33, strangled Andrea Faye Will, 18, of Batavia, with a phone cord in 1998 while the two were students at Eastern Illinois University. Sentenced to 24 years, he was allowed to cut one day of prison time for every day he served without disciplinary problems. He was paroled Nov. 16.
"For Hawaii's sake and for any potential victim, I'm glad that they're keeping a close eye on him," said Patricia Rosenberg, Will's mother.
Hawaii Defense Attorney takes advantage of clients, is ordered to stop practicing law
Frank Fernandez was ordered to stop practicing law Monday as the investigation continues.
Files show the complaints include misappropriation and misuse of client funds, coercion to exact payment and mixing his law practice with Exodus Bail Bonds, which investigators said is owned by Fernandez’ wife.
City considers relaxing fireworks storage law
American Promotional Events, Inc., which does business under the name TNT Fireworks, has a warehouse near Honolulu International Airport where it stores fireworks before they are shipped for sale on neighbor islands where fireworks are still legal.
TNT has filed an injunction challenging Honolulu's "no storage" law, and now the city council is considering a bill to rescind its "no-storage" provision.
"The bill specifically permits the warehousing of fireworks legal on the neighbor islands here in Honolulu," said City Councilman Stanley Chang who introduced the bill.
"I can't comment on the lawsuit, but in discussion today it was mentioned that passage of this bill might forestall the need for litigation and if that is true, I think that argument will be made," Chang added.