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Sunday, February 19, 2017
February 19, 2017 News Read
By Andrew Walden @ 6:49 PM :: 3908 Views

The Need for Tax Vigilance in 2017

Hawaii Family Forum Legislative Week in Review

Utopian Nonsense on the Move in the Legislature

AP: — PRESCRIBING HOUSING — A bill to classify homelessness as a medical condition with the goal of allowing doctors to prescribe housing is alive. But instead of requiring health insurance companies to provide coverage for the treatment of homelessness, the bill, SB2, was amended to direct the state auditor to study using Medicaid funds to cover the treatment of homelessness. SB2: Text, Status SB589: Text, Status

— RENEWABLE TRANSPORTATION — About one-third of Hawaii's fossil fuel consumption comes from ground transportation, according to the Blue Planet Foundation, a renewable energy nonprofit. A bill setting a goal that all ground transportation get 100 percent of fuel from renewable sources by 2045 is still alive.  HB1580: Text, Status HB793: Text, Status

— ENERGY STORAGE — Hawaii leads the nation in residents installing solar systems. But incentives from local utilities have changed, so it takes customers longer to pay off new systems. Bills in the House and Senate would offer rebates or tax credits for installing energy storage systems, to encourage customers to store solar energy for use at night, becoming more self-reliant and helping to stabilize the grid. SB361: Text, Status  SB665: Text, Status  SB660: Text, Status HB1593: Text, Status HB1574: Text, Status SB1207: Text, Status HB848: Text, Status  HB1280: Text, Status 

— HAWAII'S OBAMACARE — Republicans in Washington are working on a replacement for the Affordable Care Act, former President Barack Obama's signature health care law. Hawaii lawmakers want to save the parts of the law such as requiring insurance companies to cover people with preexisting conditions. Bills in the House and Senate are still alive.  SB403: Text, Status, HB1062: Text, Status, HB552: Text, Status,

— HOMELESS SAFE ZONES — Hawaii is exploring allowing homeless people to camp in designated "safe zones" despite opposition from Gov. David Ige. Proposals in the House and Senate are still alive. SB1223: Text, Status  HB83: Text, Status

— HIGHER MINIMUM WAGE — A House bill to raise the minimum wage — now at $9.25 an hour — to $15 by 2021 died in the House. But a similar proposal is still alive in the Senate.  SB107: Text, Status      (Mandatory Sick Leave: SB425: Text, Status  HB:1434: Text, Status)

read … Still Alive

With Sam Slom Gone, Legislators weigh more than a dozen tax proposals

SA: …observers agree it is unusual for so many broad-based and other tax increase proposals to be moving forward.

Former state Sen. Sam Slom, a longtime small business advocate who was voted out of office last fall, said now that the 2016 elections are over, the dominant Hawaii Democrats are emboldened to increase taxes.

“It was to be expected,” Slom said. “I said that after the election, and with no real vocal opposition, that this was probably what they were going to do, with the top outlaw being rail, of course.”

There doesn’t appear to be any great outcry from the public yet over the variety of tax proposals, but Slom said it has been increasingly difficult in recent years to get people to speak out at the Legislature. That’s because people are “just tired out,” he said.

“At this point, a lot of people in this community have given up,” Slom said. “They’ve given up trying to make any kind of change whatsoever. Many of them have been involved in past battles, the rail or (general excise) tax or something else, and those who haven’t moved away just feel that you can’t fight City Hall.”

House Finance Chairwoman Sylvia Luke (D, Makiki-Nuuanu-Pauoa) said many of the tax bills now in play at the Legislature are measures lawmakers debated in the past, but never approved. She said she doesn’t see much that’s unusual or new about the tax proposals being considered this year….

She noted lawmakers agreed in 2015 to extend the Oahu excise tax surcharge for rail by five years, and also considered a proposal last year to increase income taxes on people with the highest incomes while eliminating or cutting income taxes for the poor. The income tax proposal didn’t pass last year, but is advancing again in both the House and Senate this year.

Lawmakers also considered — and rejected — Gov. David Ige’s proposal to increase gasoline taxes, vehicle weight taxes and registration fees last year. Those ideas were resubmitted by Ige again this year, and have been tentatively approved by the Senate Transportation and Energy Committee.

In past years, lawmakers also have searched for ways to collect excise taxes on internet retail and wholesale purchases, Luke said, and that idea is up for consideration again this session….

The concept of a dedicated tax to increase funding for public education is another issue that is raised almost annually. Lawmakers last year considered a plan to boost the state excise tax to raise more money for schools, but finally dropped the idea.

This year the Hawaii State Teachers Association is lobbying hard for a proposed constitutional amendment to impose a property tax surcharge on investment properties and hotel rooms to increase funding for education….

Luke said a proposal for a new tax on medical marijuana — which is already subject to the state excise tax — and a proposal for a new tax on e-cigarettes and electronic smoking devices are also familiar ideas lawmakers have considered before. Electronic smoking tax proposals are moving in both the House and Senate this year, and the marijuana tax has been tentatively approved by the House Health Committee.

Still another tax idea advancing in both the House and Senate is a plan to increase the state conveyance tax on sales of real state valued in the millions of dollars to provide more money for affordable housing.

“These are not new initiatives, I don’t think,” Luke said….

Luke said a proposal for a new tax on medical marijuana — which is already subject to the state excise tax — and a proposal for a new tax on e-cigarettes and electronic smoking devices are also familiar ideas lawmakers have considered before. Electronic smoking tax proposals are moving in both the House and Senate this year, and the marijuana tax has been tentatively approved by the House Health Committee.

Still another tax idea advancing in both the House and Senate is a plan to increase the state conveyance tax on sales of real state valued in the millions of dollars to provide more money for affordable housing.

“These are not new initiatives, I don’t think,” Luke said….

Slom said he believes the variety of tax proposals moving this year is a sign lawmakers are bracing for reductions in federal funding under President Donald Trump’s administration.

He said Tokuda and Luke have expressed concern in recent years about overspending by the state, “but as a philosophy, the majority party will spend every last nickel and dime that they can.” Slom said he hopes the projected loss of federal funding will spark real change.

“I don’t want anybody to suffer, but we have obviously overspent, wasted money, can’t account for money over the years,” he said. “It’s not a lack of revenue. It’s a lack of discipline and a lack of accountability and responsibility.”

  • >> HB690: Would increase income tax rates for wealthier residents and decrease rates for lower-income taxpayers.
  • >> HB398 & SB620: Would adopt new strategies to collect excise taxes owed for retail and wholesale online purchases.
  • >> HB1012: Would disallow the tax deduction for dividends paid by real estate investment trusts for 15 years, effectively taxing REITs like other corporations.
  • >> HB206: Would impose a new surcharge on prepaid wireless services.
  • >> HB574: Would establish an excise tax on basalt cinder and trap rock sold by wholesalers or dealers.
  • >> HB698 & SB1145: Would increase the conveyance tax on sales of homes worth more than $1 million. House version would increase the tax on homes worth more than $2 million.
  • >> HB263: Would impose an unspecified new tax on medical marijuana….

Flashback: One Party Senate: “I can say Anything”

read … Legislators weigh more than a dozen tax proposals

A clear money grab by politicians

Borreca: …more money is not going to get you something new — just the regular stuff, but costing more.

First up is Senate Bill 1012, which would raise the state’s fuel tax from 16 cents to 26 cents per gallon, push up annual vehicle registration fees from $45 to $50 and increase the annual per-pound motor vehicle weight tax….

the Senate is looking at a tax bill, SB 1183, as sort of the Swiss Army knife of tax ideas. It has a tax increase in perpetuity, plus a low-income tax credit, and then says extra money collected goes for education, affordable housing and elderly programs. It is silent on the issue of whether or not to give all residents a free kitten.

The Tax Foundation of Hawaii was not amused. In prepared testimony, the non¬≠partisan foundation said lawmakers “need to decide exactly what it is they are funding, and the extent to which they are willing to write the counties a blank check.”

The bill was also called a “clear money grab” with the new dollars actually going to run, and not just build, Caldwell’s train — and the Tax Foundation warning “taxpayers may well conclude that they have been lied to when the tax was adopted.” ….

Mayor Kirk Caldwell also wants to raise your vehicle weight tax and your gas tax — but not just to fix roads, but to run the yet-to-be-finished train….

Council Chairman Ron Menor told the Senate that if the Legislature says the city, not the state, has to come up with the money, the city knows just where to go.

“If the Legislature passes a measure that requires the city to share in the construction costs of rail, the city will in all likelihood have to tap into real property tax revenues to make up the difference,” Menor said. The translation is: “If you own a house, a store or a hotel, give us more money.”

read … a clear money grab by politicians

HB1586: Council Will refuse GE Tax Hike Even if TAT is Taken Away

KGI: The state Legislature is considering taking money generated by the transient accommodations tax away from the counties.

On Tuesday the House Tourism Committee voted 7-to-1 to pass HB 1586, which seeks to phase out the allocation of TAT funds to the four counties over a period of three years….

Lawmakers hope to shift the burden of high property taxes from residents to non-residents who own property in the state….

Councilman Mason Chock believes the measure may have unintended consequences.

“It’s short-sighted to think this measure will not affect prospective first-time local homeowners in the long-run,” he said. “If the goal is to increase taxes on non-resident home buyers, then that should be its primary focus, not hoarding the TAT.”

In 2014, the state Legislature capped county appropriation of TAT funds to $103 million.

If HB 1586 is passed, the counties will be allocated $93 million for fiscal year 2017-18, $62 million for fiscal year 2018-19 and $31 million for fiscal year 2019-20, according to the bill….

Removing TAT would be detrimental to Kauai, said County Council Chairman Mel Rapozo.

“It’ll force our county to do some drastic measures to make up for the loss of revenue,” he said. “This will result in increased taxes and fees and a reduction of services to the county.” ….

Rapozo believes the new measure is a strategy to force counties to increase the general excise tax, or GET….

In 2015, the Legislature granted counties the right to establish a 0.5 percent surcharge on the GET. Last year, the Kauai County Council voted 4-to-3 not to raise GET by 0.25 of a percent….

But increasing GET is not an option, Rapozo said.  “Until I’m convinced it’s the last resort, I’m not going to support it,” he said….

HB1586: Text, Status

read … Bill would phase out county TAT money in 3 years

27 Rail Cars to Be Ripped Apart and Rebuilt in Desperate Attempt to Salvage Them

KHON: Nearly three months after its halt, production of rail cars for the Honolulu rail project is about to start up again.

We first told you back in December about a defect that was found in the frame of rail cars. The issue involved material inside aluminum beams that didn’t fuse together properly. The aluminum beams make up the rail car’s floor structure (which isn’t really important because the Flintstones didn’t need floors either and we think riders with good legs can help reduce our electric bills).

Production was immediately halted and, at the time, it wasn’t clear if the 27 rail cars that were headed for Hawaii were affected (or were headed for junk yard).

But now we have an answer — that issue with the beams occurred during the manufacturing process at a Hitachi factory in Italy.

On Saturday, the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) invited the public to view the rail cars and ask questions about what they can expect when the rail is up and running.

We found out repairs to fix the defects will start next month. Justin Garrod, HART’s deputy director of systems, says that of the 27 rail cars that have already been produced for the project, all of them are believed to have the material defect found in the underframe.  (Yep.  Every singly one is defective.)

So what happens next? We’re told a trial run for repairs will start in two weeks at the Hitachi factory in Italy.  (Translation: They don’t know if this is going to work.)

“Before HART can even accept it, we have to go through, cut out this material, and weld in the new material,” said Garrod. “Then we’ll check the surrounding material and make sure there’s no defects or degradation as a result of the cut and re-weld. That’ll probably take six to eight weeks to work through the repair, the first car shell.”

Meanwhile, more testing on the car’s design and lifetime performance is also set to begin, and Garrod says HART is using the defective rail cars to do this.

Here’s why, according to Garrod. “We have to test the trains to find issues that we can’t see right now. Early reports indicate that we’re finding good results, meaning there’s very little stress on this piece of the underfloor structure. (Sure.  We don’t need structural strength in the floors.)

read … Repairs to fix rail car production defects scheduled to start in March

SB591: $2B State Bonds for Housing Construction

Shapiro: …Sen. Will Espero’s bill to float $2 billion in bonds for affordable sale and rental homes, greater public housing inventory and more homeless shelters was approved by both Espero’s Housing Committee and the Transportation and Energy Committee.

Twenty of the 25 senators have signed Senate Bill 591, but they don’t include tightfisted Ways and Means Chairwoman Jill Tokuda, whose committee hears it next.

The measure has only tepid support from the House and Gov. David Ige, whose proposed budget would fund barely 400 of the 24,500 housing units Hawaii needs in the next five years — 80 percent of them affordable — according to the Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corp…..

The current strategy of carrot-and-stick incentives for private developers and using the city rail line as a magnet for affordable housing has failed….

(Question: Is the State competent to ‘invest’ $2B in affordable housing?  Really obvious answer: “No.  Every penny will be wasted.”)

SB591: Text, Status

read … Finally, real state action on our No. 1 crisis: homes

Medically assisted death: Wariness is warranted

SA: It is easy to understand why polls find the general public sympathetic to what, on the surface, seems a simple question of personal choice and individual liberty. Yet, a deeper dive into both public safety concerns and the possible unforeseen impact on our community, give us pause to think….

>> Proponents of assisted suicide raise the lack of documentation of any abuse under Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act as a reassurance. With national estimates of elder abuse at 10 percent, the lack of documentation of a single case of abuse is far from reassuring: it strongly suggests the lack of a system to monitor and prevent abuse.

>> There is a strong association between the desire for hastened death and depression. Therapy has been shown to be effective in reducing the desire for hastened death among those with terminal illness. Yet, very few of those requesting assisted suicide in Oregon are even referred for a mental health evaluation, less than 4 percent in the most recent report. Elsewhere in medicine, when a depressed patient expresses a desire to die, we use all of our resources to prevent it. Why should the seriously ill be provided a lower standard of care?

>> The slippery slope is not an irrational fear: it is inevitable. Canada and some European countries already permit assisted suicide as well as active euthanasia and do not require that one be terminally ill to qualify. For a truly chilling experience, visit the government website for the Netherlands to see that a 12-year-old may petition for euthanasia for unbearable suffering, absent any terminal illness….

>> These laws give immunity to prescribe lethal medications to all licensed physicians. Yet, few doctors have the added training and skills to attend to the many forms of suffering experienced by those living with terminal illness. We hold our medical colleagues in the highest regard. Our dermatologists, orthopedic surgeons and ophthalmologists all provide us with exceptional care within their scope of specialization. Yet, we would not expect them to have the skill to assess or treat suffering in a terminally ill patient. These laws do not distinguish among doctors: all are authorized to prescribe lethal medication. Skills in attending to suffering are not required, just a prescription pad.

Close to 11,000 people die in Hawaii each year, over 200 from suicide. Based on the Oregon experience, perhaps another 40 in Hawaii would opt for physician assistance. As much as we all respect and can empathize with the desire for self-determination, those entrusted with enacting and interpreting laws to both guard our civil liberties and ensure public safety, should carefully consider these risks.

read … Medically assisted death: Wariness is warranted

Star-Adv Pushes for Red Light Camera Ticket Machines

SA: The kamaaina driver in Hawaii cringes at the memory of “van cams,” the mobile units dispatched 15 years ago for photo-enforcement of speeding laws.

Operated by a private company, the automated cameras soon generated many citations — and a firestorm of protest from motorists dismayed by the unforgiving process. Many resented the employment of a private contractor to collect the photos and the steep fines.

That recollection haunts the consideration of a new bill that would establish a network of mounted cameras for traffic enforcement. They would snap photos of license plates within an intersection once the traffic signal flashes red.

The measure, Senate Bill 221, ultimately may prove (Insert dissembling arguments here.  Short version: Trust us it’ll be different this time.)

SB 221 would allow Honolulu and Maui, Hawaii and Kauai counties to set up the “photo red-light imaging detector systems.” Revenue garnered by the citations would be deposited in a single general fund, but each county could draw the funds collected within that county.  (Money spinner—just like last time.)

SB221: Text, Status

read … Give green light to red-light cams

Telescope: Lawyers Make Megabucks

HTH: As the days add up in the Thirty Meter Telescope contested case, so does the cost.

As of Dec. 31, the state’s bill for the quasi-judicial hearing was $224,789.62, according to the Department of Land and Natural Resources. Expenses through January were still being tallied, a department spokesman said.

By the end of the year, about two dozen days of witness testimony had been held, plus several pre-hearing conferences.

Parties in the hearing have met 18 days since then at the Grand Naniloa Hotel in Hilo, with dates scheduled through the end of the month.

The biggest expenses were compensation for hearings officer Riki May Amano ($152,905.68), venue rental ($28,825) and travel for staff ($21,537.32).

Amano, a retired judge, can make up to $200,000, according to her contract.

Additionally, between three and six DLNR Division of Conservation and Resource Enforcement officers are at the hearings providing security, a spokesman said. DOCARE has 23 officers on Hawaii Island.

(And this doesn’t include the lawyers for both sides—who in the end will all be paid by the taxpayers.)

Kealoha Pisciotta, a Hawaiian cultural practitioner (OHA/NHLC greenmail operative) and one of the original petitioners, said she expects the hearing won’t finish until sometime in March….

Keahi Warfield, of the pro-TMT group Perpetuating Unique Educational Opportunities, testified Wednesday.

He said he got involved in the TMT issue after a girl in his Keaukaha One Youth Development program told him she no longer wanted to be an astronomer because an uncle said she would be betraying her people.

That happened, Warfield said, when protests against the telescope took place on the mountain a couple of years ago, dividing some families.

“And in my mind I’d rather see that student become an astronomer on Mauna Kea than in South America or other place in the world,” he said. “Growing up I never knew any Hawaiian astronomers.”

(Greenmail: Lawyers profit, activists lie about the past, students lose their future.)

read … Costs of TMT case steadily rise: State’s bill more than $200,000

House Bill 1571, only attacks agriculture and will destroy farming

MN:  …According to the Findings and Recommendations of The Joint Fact Finding Study Group on pesticide use by large agribusinesses on Kauai, there were 16 school evacuation incidents due to possible pesticide drift statewide between March 2006 and December 2014. The Department of Agriculture said homeowners, not farmers, using pesticides caused the majority of pesticide exposures….  This bill, and others like it, will not encourage farming, it will destroy farming. The exposure incidents occurred right in front of our eyes and we are looking to blame the other guy….

Farmers such as myself that are certified and go through training on how to apply restricted-use pesticides are under heavy oversight. How can we as farmers stop having to defend ourselves to people that know nothing about pesticides? I find it insulting that outside influences claim to know everything, when in actuality they know very little about farming….

HB1571: Text, Status

read … The root of the pesticide debate

Will British Petroleum Junk Hawaii Windfarm or Repower Before Federal Corporate Welfare Goes Byebye?

AP: Laura Folse, chief executive of BP Wind Energy, said the move would allow the U.K. energy giant to capitalize on production tax credits while optimizing operations at farms in Texas and Kansas. The company put an initial investment down in December in order to qualify for the full tax credit, which started scaling down this year.

The updates involve swapping out aging equipment such as gearboxes, drive trains and blades, while keeping existing towers and foundations. BP expects the upgraded technology to improve efficiency and reliability while increasing overall energy output.

"It's not a done deal, but it is very real," Folse said in an interview. "The newer technology and the improvements make it economic," Folse said.

With 14 wind farms - including one operated by another company in Hawaii - BP says it has the largest wind-energy business of all major oil companies. BP tried selling off its wind business in 2013, ultimately dropping the plan after failing to find a suitable buyer (oops too late!)….

read ... Corporate Welfare Queen   

Hawaii Residents Suffer the Most from Sleeplessness

WS247: …Sleeping habits vary considerably across country. With data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the share of adults in every state who sleep less than seven hours per night. Hawaii residents get the least sleep with 43.9% of adults averaging less than seven hours each night. By contrast, only 28.4% of adults in South Dakota get insufficient sleep, the lowest share of any state.

Stress is among the leading causes of not getting enough sleep. Based on a CDC survey asking Americans to report mental well-being, 11.2% of adults experience frequent mental distress -- defined as poor mental health during at least 15 days out of the previous 30. In states where residents report getting the most sleep, this percentage tends to be lower. All the 10 states where residents report the best sleeping habits have a lower share of adults with continual stress than the nation as a whole….

read … States Getting the Most (and Least) Sleep

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