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Sunday, July 19, 2015
July 19, 2015 News Read
By Andrew Walden @ 6:44 PM :: 4050 Views

Post-Employment Benefits Are King

Despite big talk, legislators, governor rolled over on rail

Shapiro: The 2015 Legislature started with big talk from Gov. David Ige and lawmakers about holding the city accountable for its $900 million rail deficit with the project barely 10 percent built.

It ended up an emphatic lesson on how well our leaders have been taught to roll over and play dead by labor, construction and development interests that want rail at any cost.

Gov. David Ige earned his doggie biscuit this week by meekly signing the Legislature's five-year extension of the half-percent rail excise tax surcharge, after doubting all session the city really needed it this year....

This isn't about stopping rail, which will be built unless it collapses under its own weight; it's about responsibly containing costs, something supporters and opponents alike should want.

Toward that end, lawmakers squandered precious leverage to force the city to run a tighter railroad....

The tax extension will generate $1.8 billion, which not only covers the current deficit but generously gives the city $900 million more to blow on future cost overruns.

Ige and Caldwell assure it's enough to finish the now $7 billion project, but don't bet on it.

As overruns near $1 billion building a tenth of the guideway in empty farmlands, who seriously thinks overruns won't far exceed that as the 90 percent of remaining work hits populated areas?

Not to mention no plan to pay $100-million-a-year operating subsidies.

The governor and Legislature had a golden opportunity to set rail right; instead, they ducked from a runaway train.

read ... Rolled Over

Big Talk: Legislators Demand Caldwell Apologize for Lying About Rail Tax

SA: "I think there should be an apology to the public — and to the Legislature — for creating an incorrect impression," said House Majority Leader Scott Saiki. "That's the starting point. Rather than being defensive, there should just be an apology."

Conflicts between city and state leaders are hardly new on Oahu, and the latest rift involves the newly passed five-year extension of Oahu's 0.5 percent general excise tax surcharge to fund rail, valued at $1.8 billion.

It centers on Caldwell's claim during the last legislative session that the city would have to raise property taxes an estimated 30 percent to 43 percent to "pay and operate rail" if the state didn't extend that surcharge. Some lawmakers say they believed that the estimate referred to the money needed to cover the rail project's current roughly $900 million deficit.

They question whether the mayor was clear that the estimate also included helping to pay for extending the rail line beyond the current plan to end at Ala Moana Center, something that hasn't been approved.

Caldwell provided a detailed record last week that showed the city had given its property tax breakdown in writing to a Senate transportation committee. It's the same information that Saiki and other top lawmakers are now upset about, saying they never saw it.

The Feb. 11 handout apparently never made it to the Legislature's powerful money committees, which did the heavy lifting on the rail tax bill.

The chairwomen of those committees, who played a central role in drafting the measure to extend the rail tax five years, say they never saw the handout and that they subsequently could not find it in their records.

Having those estimates on how property tax increases would compare to a GET extension might have changed their deliberations and their decision-making, the lawmakers said.

"We asked throughout the session … we continued to seek that information," said Rep. Sylvia Luke (D, Punchbowl-Pauoa-Nuuanu), chairwoman of the House Finance Committee. "They never came back and corrected. They were never straightforward," she said of the city.

read ... Lying

Ige’s no-drama approach steady but lacks an agenda

Borreca: ...Ige repeatedly warned all that he will not be the “you can have it all” sort of governor welcoming deficit spending or pump priming.

“We are definitely focused on not expanding government and making choices about priorities, trying to be cautious about expansion,” Ige said, adding that he doesn’t foresee anytime now or in the next two years that the state will take in more money than it collects.

To underline that, last week Ige ordered an across-the-board 10 percent reduction in discretionary spending because revenues do not match expenditures.

Ige’s accounting of the first six months is strong, but what he accomplishes with a steadfast approach, he gives away by not setting Hawaii’s agenda.

Reacting to Hawaii’s problems is good, but putting forward your own plans to solve the problems is better.

read ... No Agenda

Caldwell Pushes Homeless into Ige's territory: DoT Properties Become 'Safe Zone' for Homeless

SA: ...Russell Mori, 59, estimates that he's been forced to move six times in the last year and most recently pitched his tent on a concrete median under the freeway, which offers protection from the sun and rain while providing overhead lighting.

"I used to live at Ala Moana Beach Park but got swept," Mori said. "I like it here."

After being forced out of Waikiki, Mori's neighbor — a 56-year-old homeless man who would give only his first name, Oliver — also ended up at the intersection because "you sleep better at night because we don't get hassled," he said. "I was looking for a spot and this is where I landed."

...homeless people such as Ewa Gahuman, 44, said Hono­lulu police leave them alone because they are on land owned by the state Department of Transportation, which has no law enforcement powers....

read ... Caldwell Making Homeless Ige's Problem

Hawaii Co Auditor: Only Liquor Commissioner is as Corrupt as Billy Kenoi

HTH: Misuse of county credit cards is not widespread in Hawaii County government, but is confined to Mayor Billy Kenoi’s office and one other department, according to an audit report released Friday by Legislative Auditor Bonnie Nims.

The audit found 164 transactions totaling $29,961 that did not follow county policy, had a questionable public purpose and might have violated state law. In the 2014 calendar year, the county used approximately 236 purchasing cards spending $1.15 million....

Nims’ findings echo investigative reports during the past several months by West Hawaii Today and the Hawaii Tribune-Herald that found Kenoi, his executive assistants and the county Department of Liquor Control routinely used their pCards for personal purchases, questionable purchases or to buy liquor....

read ... Nearly Unrivaled Corruption

Political Spoils System:  Kenoi bending contract employee rules

HTH: Over the past two years, Mayor Billy Kenoi has spent more than $1.5 million on contracted employees, using an exemption to sidestep state civil service laws that require employees be hired based on merit.

That’s according to a West Hawaii Today analysis of contract employment records supplied by the county Department of Human Resources under Hawaii’s open records laws.

Many of those 36 positions — agriculture agent, public information officer, information assistant, transit clerk, parks construction coordinator — could in theory be filled by civil service workers. In some departments, vacancies exist where a civil service hire could be used instead of the contracted one....

The administration defends the practice, saying contract employees are hired for emergencies, such as ... a transition when long-term employees retire and need to train successors.... (Translation: They want to start collecting pension while continuing to collect a salary.)

These aren’t low-level hires, either. One contracted employee, a special projects coordinator for Civil Defense, makes $83,208 annually. Another, a director of operations for the Fire Department’s helicopter, makes $74,352. A public information officer and a construction coordinator, both in the Department of Parks and Recreation, pull annual salaries of about $70,000.

A park project manager, grade SR24, is listed as vacant in the Projected Position/Salary Requirements report for 2015-16 provided to the County Council on May 5. A full third of the 18 positions in the Department of Research &Development, where many of the contract hires are assigned, are also vacant, according to the report.

Some worry the practice could bring county government back to the days of a political spoils system.

read ... Contract

NOAA: We Will Take Over Moanalua Bay

SA: ...We received thousands of public comments during the comment period, which closed June 19. We have seen the interest and passion in the community, and have heard very clearly the diverse views of the public. Some comments expressed support for the proposal, and others were strong voices of concern.

Now we enter the next phase of the process where, working with our state partners, we will consider all views expressed and examine ways to refine the proposal based on what we heard.

Going forward, working with state agencies like the DLNR and the governor’s office, we will identify the role the sanctuary should play to support Hawaii’s management of these critical natural resources. Specifically, we will be looking at whether the additional areas proposed by the sanctuary around Oahu, Kauai and Niihau are appropriate or necessary to meet the objectives of the sanctuary and the state.

In addition, we will work with the state to determine what kind of modifications should be considered regarding the regulations proposed in the March 2015 draft document. This includes controversial discharge and seabed-alteration regulations intended to help restore the health of Maunalua Bay, which is already within sanctuary co-managed waters.

The state and NOAA will be working to finalize the regulations and plan and release them sometime next year.

Once the final rule is released, the governor will have an additional opportunity to weigh in on any changes in management to state waters.

read ... NOAA Taking Over

TMT attorney had inside track on legal issues

HTH: A private attorney for the Thirty Meter Telescope was allowed in on state and county officials’ conversations about jurisdictional issues on Mauna Kea, according to documents obtained by the Tribune-Herald.

Additionally, J. Douglas Ing, of Honolulu-based Watanabe Ing LLC, provided those officials with TMT’s legal arguments supporting prosecution of the protesters who were arrested for blocking construction of the telescope atop Hawaii’s tallest mountain.

In late April, in the wake of the initial 31 protesters’ arrest, Ing, who represents the TMT International Observatory, participated in at least two conference calls with Hawaii Deputy Attorneys General Linda Chow and Julie China, as well as University of Hawaii attorney Ian Sandison and Hawaii County prosecutors, emails show....

Shortly after an April 20 conference call, Ing sent out a document entitled “TMT - Legal argument re prosecution of protesters.”

“Thank you for joining the call today,” Ing wrote in an email addressed to Elizabeth “Britt” Bailey, the Hawaii County deputy prosecuting attorney assigned to the protesters’ cases.

“In follow up, attached is the memo regarding sovereignty, the Kingdom, lack of jurisdiction issues and Judge Cardoza’s ruling. This was prepared by Ross Shinyama of our office. Feel free to contact him if you have questions.”

The nine-page document references a number of previous court rulings and outlines arguments for why TMT believes those arrested during protests against the $1.4 billion project should be prosecuted for their crimes.

“There is no dispute that the protesters’ conduct in obstructing state and county highways and roads occurred withing the State of Hawaii,” reads the memo. “The protesters are therefore subject to the criminal jurisdiction of the State of Hawaii.”

The document also states that the existence of the Kingdom of Hawaii is not relevant to the issue of whether the state has jurisdiction over the protesters and their conduct. He referenced a 2013 case involving Kona resident Dennis Kaulia, in which the Hawaii Supreme Court held that “individuals claiming to be citizens of the Kingdom (of Hawaii) and not of the State (of Hawaii) are not exempt from application of the State’s laws.”

read ... Track

Rail Reality: TOD Will Increase Traffic

SA: The TOD plans have derailed some residents who raised concerns about the impact on parking, traffic and congestion as development ramps up.

"It's a plan, and it's something that most of the community endorses," said Cruz Vina Jr., chairman of the Pearl City Neighborhood Board. "(But) some of them, they're kind of concerned because they're worried about the traffic."

Vina, a longtime Pearl City resident, said he plans to meet with community members to gather suggestions on bus stop locations to ensure that residents have access to the rail stations.

Okino acknowledged that several residents are worried about an increase in traffic, but maintained that traffic should decrease once the rail line is in place.

"There's a trade-off. For some of the good, you're going to have some negatives," Okino said. "(But) I think it's (rail) going to blow them away."

For more information and to view the TOD plans, visit honolulu.gov/tod.

read ... Traffic

Homelessness: Chronics to be Cleared out before Families

SA: ...Meetings of the Hawaii Interagency Council on Homelessness (HICH) have become a metaphor for that lack of progress, but a surprise on the June agenda featured three goals apparently agreed by agencies managing various initiatives to address homelessness:

>> End veteran homelessness in 2015.

>> End chronic homelessness in 2016.

>> And end homelessness for families with children in 2020....

read ... Chronics First

Martin questions Caldwell's $1.2M consulting fee for Ala Moana Beach Park

KITV: City spending $1.2 million on consultant that helped revitalize Bryant Park in New York

read ... Consulting

More Shenanigans With UH Athletic Contracts

SA: As the Board of Regents prepares for an extensive review of the University of Hawaii athletic program, Regent Simeon Acoba Jr. would like some light shined into one of its most curious corners: coaching contracts.

“I think there seems to be in the public a perception that something is going on about contracts,” Acoba said at Thursday’s meeting. “That they are either lost in the system or there may be — I don’t want to use the word ‘shenanigans’ — (something) going on, but (there is a need) to make that process clearer. I think that would be helpful.”

Acoba is a compelling voice for transparency, having been a Hawaii Supreme Court Associate Justice for nearly 15 years until his retirement in 2014. He isn’t the only one on campus pushing for more openness, but the process has been halting, and the hope is that he can give it some needed momentum.

While Acoba wasn’t speaking directly to the contract of men’s basketball coach Eran Ganot, he very easily could have. Ganot’s hiring was announced April 9, yet, as of Thursday’s Regents meeting, his contract remained to be executed, officials said.

read ... Shenanigans

Maui County taxi drivers suffering as Uber drivers take a detour around regulations

MN: Taxicab drivers are regulated by the county code of ordinances, which dictates fare rates, license and permit requirements, and how many are permitted in the county. The County Council, by resolution, may request that the mayor appoint a committee to review the code each even-numbered year. The committee would report its findings to the mayor, who then forwards them to the County Council for possible amendments.

Crowley said that he invested about $50,000 to become a taxi driver, with all of the licensing and permitting fees along with buying a car. He said it took him over a year to recoup the money, whereas he could have signed up for Uber and paid nothing to do the same job.

"It's so unbelievably unfair," he said. "I've never seen such an assault on a service industry. I've never seen anything like it."

read ... Uber

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