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Sunday, July 12, 2015
July 12, 2015 News Read
By Andrew Walden @ 7:27 PM :: 5517 Views

Feds Extend Comment Period for Proposed Hawaiian Homelands Rules

Clean Energy Equals $418M Tax Hike?

Protesters Suddenly Oppose Early Decommissioning of Telescopes, Want Lease Extensions

HTH: After struggling to repair the broken 36-inch Hoku Kea telescope for years, UH-Hilo was planning to replace it with a smaller “off-the-shelf” version for $450,000. The telescope would be used to train students in its undergraduate astronomy program on the mountain.

The money already was appropriated and the project was ready to be put out to bid, according to faculty members.

But it was instead scrapped after UH selected the site as the next to be decommissioned in order to meet Gov. David Ige’s request that a quarter of the telescopes on the mountain be removed by the time TMT is completed in the next decade.

If the goal was to reduce concerns over TMT — the largest telescope ever to be built on the mountain — removing Mauna Kea’s smallest observatory would likely not accomplish much, if anything at all, said Pisciotta and Deborah Ward, who are two of six people challenging TMT’s conservation land use permit in the state Supreme Court. 

(Translation: OHA's protesters want money, not decommissioning.  More decommissioning means less money.  Ige has trapped OHA by giving the protesters what they demanded instead of what OHA really wants.) 

“In fact, it’s one of the telescopes we did not object to,” said Ward, a board member of the Hawaii Sierra Club. She said the group had written a letter in support of the telescope, which was to recycle one of Mauna Kea’s original observatory sites, when it was first proposed.  Pisciotta, a Hawaiian cultural practitioner, said she’d prefer that all telescopes come down at that date, but doesn’t object to them using the mountain, which many Hawaiians consider sacred, for the rest of the master lease.  (Unless she's offered $50M/year in which case anything goes.)

“At this point, we would like to see science that’s doing well on the mountain continue and the people who are working for those observatories continue their work, but we haven’t actually called for (early) decommissioning,” Ward said.

She said she’d like to see UH’s master lease for the summit expire in 2033 and any telescopes that would remain be given individual leases....

A faculty member said that won’t be the same as having the Hoku Kea, since students can’t use the other telescopes for technical training.

Hoku Kea Director Peter Martin wrote on Facebook that UH-Hilo “gains nothing here” since it already had a collaborative agreement with UH-Manoa.

“My opinion: After months of involvement in these discussions, I am fairly certain that the current status of Hoku Kea was not that critical,” he said.

“It was gone, working or not. Politics has won over education.”

Best comment: "Nice going, protestors. This is what's called collateral damage. I could trot out a lot of aphorisms, with 'Be careful what you wish for...' heading the list. A big first on the Big Island for the 'I'm not a scientist, but....' crowd."

read ... Thanks a lot, OHA

Protesters Stand Down in Face of New Rule limiting access to Mauna Kea

KHON: Board member Stanley Roehrig, who represents Hawaii Island, said “I have great sympathy, their instinct, and what they’re trying to stand for. However, because I’m a member of the board, I have to do what’s in the best interest for the state of Hawaii.”

“I may not agree with everything they say, but it is a law,” Kaipo Moris said. “A lot of people respect the law, because without law, there is no order.”

“I feel conflicted because I’m one to follow my culture,” added Aina Moris, “but I do know there are certain laws we need to uphold. Like these rules: if they’re not followed, there will be consequences.”

(Translation: OHA has instructed the protesters to stand down.)

read ... Deal

Rail Tax Lies: Caldwell Claims Legislators were in on it

Caldwell: No politician wants to ask for the authority to extend a tax. (Except me.  Since taking office, I've asked almost every week for some kind of tax hike.)

Prior to the start of the legislative session, I asked House and Senate leaders to introduce legislation proposing an extension of the GET one-half percent surcharge in perpetuity.

Before the Legislature's money committees on Jan. 26, I was asked why the GET surcharge should be extended in perpetuity when I could ask the Council to raise real property taxes. I explained that real property taxes would have to be raised, in "rough numbers," in the range of 30 to 43 percent to cover the rail construction shortfall, the two extensions to the University of Hawaii and East Kapolei, and operation and maintenance in perpetuity....

The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART), at my request, submitted multiple binders and handouts of supporting information to members of the money and subject matter committees. This included a breakdown of how much real property taxes would have to be increased to cover the additional construction costs for the first 20 miles of the rail project (5.6 percent), the two extensions (24.8 percent) and the operation of the system (8 percent). This information was available to the legislators and to the press throughout the session....

In March, a Honolulu Star-Advertiser reporter sent a Freedom of Information Act request to the Mayor's Office requesting the backup information regarding the question of real property tax increases. Our office (stonewalled) asked the reporter to submit the request to HART, the keeper of the documents used to calculate the real property tax breakdown.

In June, (after the Lege was done) a follow-up informal inquiry was made to our office and we promptly responded with the information, which was then reported out of context, given the passage of time.  (And we all know timing is everything in my little scam.)

Subsequently, a Honolulu Star-Advertiser editorial which was based on this June story accused me of a lack of transparency, which was misinformed. (Yes.  I was a stone cold liar, not a wishy-washy 'transparency-lacker.'  I take pride in my ability to hoodwink the public.  Where's the appreciation?)

The fact is, the real property tax calculations were provided to the Legislature in February and March.  (Translation: They were in on my game, but didn't tell the public.) In the end, they used that information to make their decision to extend the surcharge for only five years to cover the shortfall, and reserve debate on extending the rail line for another year.  (While you peasants were running around in circles like dog chasing tail.)

Best Comment: "First he lies then he lies again to cover up his first lie."

read ... Caldwell Snitches

Flashback Feb 22, 2015: Caldwell Says he Can't Trust Legislators with Details on Rail Costs

SA: ....lawmakers, along with Gov. David Ige's budget director, have cautioned against making any decision on the rail tax until they get more details on how much it might cost to finish building the project.

But Mayor Kirk Caldwell last week said he can't provide them with much more about rail's future costs other than what's already been made public.

Simply put, at this point it appears no one really knows how much the largest public works project in Hawaii's history will ultimately cost to complete.

The city does have its own internal cost projections, provided by rail officials, which gives ranges on how expensive they think each of the nine or so remaining major construction contracts might be. Caldwell said he can't share those cost projections with lawmakers or anyone else because the work hasn't been put out to bid yet and disclosing those figures, even behind closed doors, would tarnish the process.

It's not a question of whether he trusts the legislators to guard that information, but rather it's "a matter of the process," Caldwell said Friday. There's a "small, finite group of people working on the bid, working on the budget, and it's done within a small agency group. It's not shared on the state level." ....

read ... Oooops!

3,000 Bills, 252 Approved, 8 Left to Veto

KGI: In total, about 3,000 bills were introduced by lawmakers in the state House and Senate during the 2015 legislative session, which wrapped up in May. Of those, 252 were approved by the full Legislature and sent to Gov. David Ige for his decision. The governor has already said he will sign or otherwise allow all but eight of those to go into law.

The governor has until Tuesday to make a final decision on how he will handle those remaining eight bills....

read ... Tuesday

One Party System: House, Senate Leaders Will not Override Vetoes Even though they have the votes

Borreca: ...House and Senate leaders have met and agreed that they are not going to touch any of Ige's expected eight vetoes.

House Speaker Joe Souki confirmed that, saying he met with Senate President Ron Kouchi and they decided to sit out....

Hawaii is one of the country's strongest Democratic states and much of the Democrats' political power comes from supporting and working with unions. Making more unions and more union members is supposed to be what Democrats do.

Supporters of the House bill say the estimated 6,000 grad assistants represent one of the biggest exploited labor classes in Hawaii. (But they must be sacrificed on the altar of the One Party System.  Keep reading.)

"Having talked to what must be every single grad assistant, they feel they are being mistreated. They are the labor arm of the university and the professors are the management arm," said Rep. Isaac Choy, the Higher Education Committee chairman and the bill's sponsor.

"The bill just says you have a right to collectively bargain. I cannot see a Democratic state such as ours even think of vetoing this," said Choy, who thinks he had the needed two-thirds majority of votes to block Ige's expected veto....

As former House Speaker Calvin Say explained, there is more involved in a veto override than just the contents of a single bill.

If there are issues with a bill, just work it out and pass another one next year, counseled Say, who is clearly a member of the "cool head main thing" school of politics.

What is important, Say explained, is that the Legislature works with the governor. When asked about the record number of vetoes and veto overrides when Republican Linda Lingle was governor, Say explained "that was political."

"So it is political, but based on philosophy," said Say in an interview.

"You have to preserve the fifth floor (the governor's office) for your party."

Say worried that something of a precedent may have been set with Gov. Neil Abercrombie being turned out of office after just one term, even though many House members supported his re-election.

"If you are going to be confrontational with the governor, it is better in the second term, because in the first term you want to see him re-elected," Say said....

More on the One Party System: Young Democrats show why party remains in power

KL: Bill aimed to help graduate students risks veto

read ... One Party State in Action

Medicare underpayments, inflation hit hospitals and their patients hard

SA: When does winning a race turn out to be bad for business? When you are a Hawaii hospital in 2015, in the new era of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

As noted in the Hawaii Health Information Corp.'s June report, "Ouch! Mounting Medicare Cuts Hurt," Hawaii hospitals are suffering under tremendous Medicare cuts.

The problem is even broader, as the $2.5 billion in Medicare underpayments (2010-2024) mentioned in the report do not include losses to hospitals from Medicaid, Medicare Advantage or the uninsured. To make matters worse, Medicare payments are not keeping pace with inflation, so unless something changes, these deficits will widen every year. The strains of this can be seen in the publically run health care system and in some private providers, including hospitals, home health, durable medical equipment providers and hospice.

Medicare cuts are just one piece of the puzzle, one that shows a tremendously difficult fiscal environment of all health care providers in the state, not just hospitals. The irony is that part of the reason Hawaii is in this difficult position is due to the forward thinking of state leaders who passed the Hawaii Prepaid Health Care Act (PHCA) in 1974 and QUEST program implementation in 1994.

When the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010, one of the main aims was to expand coverage to uninsured Americans. There were federal incentives to help states achieve that goal. These incentives were also meant to help offset the cost of Medicare cuts. The problem is that with PHCA and QUEST expansion, Hawaii was already inches away from the finish line, so it could only receive a small fraction of the federal incentives to do better.

Hawaii is also a very efficient state in terms of medical care delivery, which means we are already doing more with less, and this makes cuts more painful here.

Background: Ouch! Mounting Medicare Cuts Hurt Hawaii Hospitals

read ... Medicare

Loss of Medicare funding threatens health care for Hawaii’s elderly

SA: Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has taken the Affordable Care Act (ACA) out of limbo, Hawaii policymakers must grapple with inequities in the law — because if they don't, over the next 10 years, the state's health care system could suffer significant implosion in much-needed health care resources.

The implosion, which began in earnest in 2010, is coming from care we provide to our senior citizens.

Across-the-board national Medicare cuts and massive underpayments have Hawaii headed for a $3.3 billion hit, Hawaii Health Information Corp. (HHIC) research shows.

Our senior citizens are a huge and growing part of our hospitals' patient load. Last year, Medicare beneficiaries received inpatient care costing more than $700 million; that's about 44 percent of all inpatient care costs in the state. Of nearly $1 billion spent in emergency room care in Hawaii last year, more than 22 percent was for Hawaii's Medicare beneficiaries....

read ... Worst is yet to come

Health Department Mental Health Exam Backlog -- Deadly 'gross negligence'

SA:  Richard Nelson was shot and killed by police in Waikiki a year ago while awaiting a court-ordered mental health evaluation to determine whether he was fit for trial for misdemeanor crimes.

Nelson's evaluation had been delayed for months as a handful of state Department of Health forensic psychologists focused on whittling down a significant backlog that has grown substantially in recent years.

Police said Nelson, 52, was drunk at the time and failed to comply with commands to get out of a car that nearly struck the officer who shot him.

"The reason (Nelson) was killed is because he didn't get a competency exam in time," said Daryl Matthews, a forensic psychiatrist who has done exams for the state as an independent contractor. He added that if defendants like Nelson received evaluations within at least a week, as required by law in other states, they would be treated right away and avoid misbehavior due to mental illness.

State psychologists contend these cases may become more prevalent as a result of staffing shortages and an overall breakdown in Hawaii's mental health system....

Fridovich said part of the problem in filling the positions is that the salary is not sufficient for the expertise required or the complexity of the work, and is not comparable to market rates.

Civil-service court examiner positions pay between $5,410 and $6,330 a month, (poor representation from lousy union, HGEA) while salaries for exempt positions are between $5,410 and $6,935. The positions are posted on the Health Department and state Department of Human Resources Development websites. The minimum requirements for the job include a doctorate in clinical psychology and three years' experience as a clinical psychologist; job seekers must also be licensed to practice in the state.

read ... Gross

Taxpayers take hit for Maui PD overtime abuses

MN: The Maui County Police Commission budgeted $4.3 million for overtime in 2012. By the end of fiscal year 2012, the end budget for overtime resulted in $4.5 million.

The following fiscal year, initially $3.5 million was budgeted for overtime. By the end of fiscal year 2013, the overtime expenditures resulted in $4.6 million. Not just $1.1 million more than originally budgeted but $100,000 more than previous fiscal year.

Most recently, the Maui County Police Commission stated that the initial budget for overtime for fiscal year 2014 was $3.9 million, however, by the end of the fiscal year, the overtime expenditures resulted in $5 million. Again $1.1 million more than the initial budget, but this time costing $400,000 more than the previous fiscal year 2012....

The top overtime payment resulted in $75,133.99 for a Wailuku Patrol sergeant. Followed by $58,292.82 and $49,159.60 earned by two Wailuku Patrol officers. For the fiscal year 2012, a police officer II from Wailuku Patrol received $61,006.38, a police sergeant received $60,010.92, and finally another police officer II received $49,745.06 in overtime.

Similar results were seen in fiscal year 2013 with the highest overtime of that year was $72,350.26 received by a police officer II working out of Wailuku Patrol.

Wailuku Patrol paid estimated overtime of $1.89 million in 2014, almost four times as much as the next comparable department. Not only is Wailuku Patrol receiving extensive overtime, but it also has some of the highest total salaries in Maui County, sometimes totaling more than $170,000 per year....

read ... Overtime Abuse

Maui Council frustrated with lack of control over collective bargaining costs

MN: Last Tuesday, the County Council adopted Resolutions 15-63, 15-64 and 15-65 to approve cost items for new collective bargaining agreements with certain employee units.

The agreements include increases in salaries, health-benefit premiums and stand-by pay, totaling an estimated $2.4 million for the current fiscal year.

The resolutions were recommended for adoption by the Budget and Finance Committee, chaired by Council Member Riki Hokama. But the committee report noted the panel's "frustration with the current process of approving CBAs and related cost items" because the council "has no part in negotiating CBAs and determining whether they are sustainable for the County's taxpayer base."

In addition, the report noted the state government has four votes in labor negotiations, while each of the four county governments only has one vote, with the County of Maui typically represented by the Department of Personnel Services. The council has authorized Corporation Counsel Pat Wong to retain an experienced outside negotiator to assist the county in future collective bargaining.

The council will continue to look for other means of ensuring county taxpayers - the ultimate employers of public workers - are adequately represented at the bargaining table....

read ... Frustrated

Honolulu Council bill is for the birds, and a huge distraction, too

Shapiro:  As our city struggles to solve an escalating public health crisis involving thousands of human beings who have no homes, the City Council fretted at its meeting Wednesday about birds that do have homes.

On the table was Bill 51, introduced by Councilwoman Carol Fukunaga, which would require Oahuans who own 10 or more pet birds to buy permits, obtain the permission of their neighbors and allow the city to inspect their homes.

Despite public testimony running 20-to-1 against, the bill unanimously passed first reading and was sent to committee for further consideration.

And once again, Council members proved that their greatest talent is giving life to Ronald Reagan's old joke about government: "If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it." ...

read ... Bird Brains

Puerto Rico Cost of Living Like Hawaii's

G: Puerto Rico is in a severe fiscal crisis due to its $72bn in debt, which its governor recently declared was “not payable”. It has been in recession since 2006, with a generally contracting economy creating an unemployment rate of about 12-13% compared to the US rate of 5.5% and about a 41% poverty rate compared to the US’s 14.3%. While the island is dotted with US chain stores like Walmart and Walgreens – amounting to the largest concentration of those stores in the world – residents face high costs for many necessities, while earning a remarkably low per capita income of about $19,000 per year, half the US average.

A recent report by Puerto Rico’s Institute of Statistics compared the cost of living in Puerto Rico with that of more than 325 urban areas in the US. It found that supermarket items were 21% more expensive than in the US. Utilities were the fourth-priciest in the US, after Fairbanks, Alaska, Honolulu, Hawaii and Hilo Hawaii. Overall, the cost of living was 13% higher than in those 325 areas in the US....

read ... Debt and Cost of Living go Together

Solar Industry "Don’t Tax the Sun” rally

KHON: The “bills” read “Citation! Evading Taxes While Soaking Up the Rays!” “It’s kind of funny,” said Robert Harris of the Alliance for Solar Choice, “but the humor is to expose a bad idea.”

The rally was to raise awareness of what ASC sees are the tax impacts of Hawaiian Electric Company’s recent solar proposal. “HECO’s proposal, if adopted by the Public Utilities Commission, would cripple the growth of solar and put a costly tax burden on customers,” Harris said....

A statement was released later in the morning by Hawaiian Electric, stating that “while we appreciate a diversity of viewpoints, statements made by The Alliance for Solar Choice are incorrect and deliberately mischaracterize our position.

“Our proposal would not tax customers with rooftop PV. We’re proposing to credit customers for energy produced by their rooftop PV systems, just as they are credited under the existing Net Energy Metering program. … The state Consumer Advocate submitted a filing with the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission recommending the same bill credit we’ve proposed for new solar customers.”

SA: Another Hydrogen Fluff Piece

read ... Solar Scammers

Kauai: Feral Cat Fanatics Become Increasingly Obsessive, Threaten Each Other

KE: The Garden Island again today does what it does best: gobble up a special interest point of view and regurgitate it as “news” to unsuspecting readers.

Specifically, I'm referencing the “Toast to Cats” puff piece by Brittany Lyte. She paints the Kauai Community Cat Project in glowing terms, with no reference to the group's vicious cyber bullying of Kauai Humane Society Director Penny Cistaro, much less the native bird deaths caused by feral cats or their terrible suffering in the wild.

It's unclear why anyone would attend the fundraiser of a group that sponsors a Facebook page calling Penny a monster and murderer because she manages an agency that has the unpleasant duty of euthanizing the island's unwanted dogs and cats.

Oh, and btw, folks, KKCR is listed as “liking” that page, too. Is this the sort of bullying behavior you want your community-funded radio to support?

And does TGI endorse this sort of action by giving KCCP (formerly Kauai Ferals) such prominent and fawning coverage?

I see that Geoffrey Culverhouse from Ching Young Village, Wyndham Bali Hai Villas, Kapaa Animal Clinic, Paradise Animal Clinic and Banana Patch Studios are listed as friends of KCCP. Curt Last and Mark Hurt are also big supporters. Do they all endorse the group's cyber bullying and defamation of Penny?

Yet despite the ugliness and unfairness of its actions, KCCP claims to be “fighting the good fight,” as so many fanatics do....

Meanwhile, in the real world, feral cats killed at least 252 birds in the Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge between January 2012 and December 2014, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service. Some 94% of these were endangered species. This level of killing occurred even with active cat trapping in the refuge....

read ... Musings: Here Kitty, Kitty Part III

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