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Tuesday, April 24, 2018
April 24, 2018 News Read
By Andrew Walden @ 4:14 PM :: 3893 Views

HSTA: Our Slush Fund is on the Ballot Nov 6

SB2609 -- "The most unethical bill of the Session"

Realtors: Hawaii Most Un-affordable Housing in USA

HUD: Low Income Family of Four -- $93,000

Best Values: UH Manoa Ranks 182nd

Hawaii Most Gambling-Related Arrests per Capita

Hawaii: How Safe is Your Hospital?

Secret Report Boosts Rail Shortfall to Quarter-Billion Dollars

CB:  Federal contractors overseeing Honolulu rail believe the transit project’s latest multi-billion-dollar construction budget is short by approximately $250 million, according to City Council leaders.

Local rail officials, meanwhile, remain firm that their $8.16 billion cost estimate is sound. But if they’re unable to convince their partners at the Federal Transit Administration, the city could be forced to find millions of dollars more for rail — on top of the $214 million it must already pay out of its own budget during construction.

The latest red flags over the construction costs, according to multiple sources, are part of an April 10 draft report by Jacobs Engineering — the longtime “project management oversight contractor” that monitors rail for the FTA. The budget concerns stem from Jacobs’ February visit to scrutinize the project in what’s known as a “risk refresh.”

Jacobs’ final report hasn’t been released yet. FTA and Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation officials plan to discuss the Jacobs findings later this week, HART Executive Director Andrew Robbins told his agency’s board members on Thursday.

The final report should be released sometime afterward, according to a HART spokesman.

The budget issue also came up at a meeting in Washington, D.C. last week between FTA and city leaders, including Mayor Kirk Caldwell, Council Chairman Ernie Martin, Councilman Trevor Ozawa and Robbins, according to Martin and Ozawa. Sen. Brian Schatz also attended.

A joint statement released after that meeting by Caldwell, Martin and Ozawa did not mention the cost discrepancy….

read … Feds: Honolulu Needs $250 Million More To Complete Rail

HART Accounting Games Drain City Finances

SA: …on Thursday, Kondo pointed out that it appears his office and HART have different opinions on reimbursement eligibility. After he broached the subject at HART’s board meeting, particulars of the disagreement were not discussed in open session.

Clearly, the city now has an especially keen interest in keeping rail administrative costs to a minimum. Failure to do so would mean digging deeper into city coffers — and that could mean painful cuts to city services, for starters.

Last month, city Budget Director Nelson Koyanagi told the Star-Advertiser editorial board: “HART has an operating budget and a capital budget. But technically the whole thing is a capital project” because all funding is tied to rail construction. “Unfortunately, what HART has been reporting as its operating budget includes a lot of things that are clearly capital.”

Koyanagi said HART administrators have estimated that 60 percent of the agency’s administrative costs could be moved to the capital costs side of the ledger, which would then make them eligible for GET and TAT revenues.

How the city and state’s financial wizards resolve the accounting ground rules will be consequential to which pots of money get tapped. A swift overhaul of HART’s fuzzy financial management is needed to help bolster public confidence in Hawaii’s largest-ever public works project.

Weak confidence in the rail project prompted an Act 1 provision allowing the state House and Senate to appoint two non-voting members to the HART board, bringing the total to 14 members. That board did the public a disservice at Thursday’s meeting when, faced with the issues raised by Kondo, it quickly voted to meet behind closed doors….

read … HART spending needs more clarity

HSTA Slush Fund Unlimited Tax Increases in Your Future

CB: …Should the proposal for a constitutional amendment pass, lawmakers would still need to figure out details of how high any surcharge might be, which investment properties to target and which components of public education could be the main beneficiaries of the revenue.

Because the final wording of the ballot question is so vague, there is no dollar figure on how much the surcharge could generate or specifics on how this tax structure could work….

Opponents, however, believe this type of tax creates a potentially risky scenario that will siphon much-needed revenue away from counties, which currently exercise control over property tax revenue, and lead to a trickle-down effect that will expand other taxes and stick renters with higher costs.

The Senate passed the measure by a 23-1 vote. Senate Bill 2922 was introduced in the Senate, got sent to the House, where it was amended, and was returned to the Senate for final consideration.

The lone dissenter was Sen. Gil Riviere, of Waialua, who argued that although the proposed tax on residential investment property is meant to target the wealthy, it will lead to negative repercussions on “regular people” who rent.

City and county officials are also in opposition.

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s administration said such a tax will have an “adverse impact” on Honolulu’s real estate market since it might dissuade potential investors from investing in higher-priced properties, driving rents up higher overall.

Harry Kim, the mayor of Hawaii County, wrote in testimony that the county relies “overwhelmingly on real property taxes to fund our operations” and that a surcharge on residential investment properties would make it more difficult to balance his budget….

SA: Riviere warned that the surcharge could ultimately hurt renters if the tax is passed on to them by property owners

CB: Just Who Would Pay The New Education Tax?

PBN: The bill as written would apply to all non-owner occupied property, including hotels, office buildings, commercial buildings and apartment buildings, as well as condominiums and second homes. The House version also broadened the scope further by deleting language saying the tax be applied to properties valued at $1 million or more.

read … Voters Will Decide Whether To Hike Property Taxes To Fund Schools

Report: In Honolulu, $40K salary now considered 'very low income'

HNN: The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has released its income limits for 2018 — a calculation that is used to determine who can qualify for affordable and subsidized housing programs, and also helps establish fair market rent.

HUD income limits in Hawaii are increasing substantially — in some cases by more than 10 percent — as the cost of living jumps each year. This means more people are qualifying for public assistance through housing vouchers or Section 8 placement, but those options are still as limited as before.

According to HUD, as of 2018, low income for a single person in Honolulu is someone making up to $65,350. Just a year ago, it was $58,600. That's a nearly $7,000 increase from 2017.

A family of four in Honolulu can now make up to $93,300 and still be considered low income. That's up $9,600 from just a year ago, or more than 11 percent.

A person living on Oahu and making $40,850 is now "very low income." For a family of four, it's $58,300. These figures are also up from 2017.

These numbers are important because the HUD uses them to establish the requirements for people applying for public housing or housing vouchers.

HUD sets lower income limits at 80 percent and very low income limits at 50 percent of the median income for the county or metro area where you live.

Income limits vary depending on which county you live in.

At $96,000, Honolulu has the highest by far; followed by Kauai at $87,000; Maui and Molokai both at $81,400; and then Hawaii Island at $47,200.

According to HUD, the median family income for the state of Hawaii is now $88,300….

Question: Why is the cost of living going up so much? 

Answer:

1--Higher taxes to feed HGEA/HSTA/UPW.

2--Higher utility bills to feed Elon Musk.

3--Higher housing costs due to artificially restricted land supply to benefit KSBE and A&B.

Now, as a result of the higher cost of living, HUD has upped the income limits for subsidized ‘affordable’ housing.  This means that higher rents can now be charged. 

CB: $93K Is Now Considered Low-Income For Honolulu Family Of 4

read … Report: In Honolulu, $40K salary now considered 'very low income'

Oahu residents are likely to see their rent go up

KHON: A two-bedroom affordable unit that rented for $1,177 last year, can go up to $1,312 this year. That's an increase of $135 a month. So what's driving it up and what else is affected?  

The increase is triggered by the U.S. Department of Housing, which raised the limits for affordable housing. It does mean more people will qualify for it. But it comes at a higher price.

In order to be eligible for affordable housing in Honolulu last year, someone could not earn more than $86,600. This year, that's gone up $96,000, an 11% increase. Experts say it essentially gives property owners the green light to raise the rent just as much. …

News Release: 2018 AMI, affordable housing income limits released

read … Oahu residents are likely to see their rent go up

SB2939: Lower HECO Bond Rating to Funnel Money to Green Energy Scammers

UHERO: The cost of capital also looms large for our investor-owned electric utility. HECO has a lot of capital to finance, some of it through corporate bond issues….

This worry was one predictably raised in response to a bill, now on Governor Ige’s desk, that would force the Public Utilities Commission to:

“…establish performance incentives and penalty mechanisms that directly tie an electric utility revenues to that utility’s achievement on performance metrics and break the direct link between allowed revenues and investment levels.”….

(NOTE: Ige will sign SB2939 today at 10am)

If the allowed rate of return exceeds what the utility must pay in dividends to shareholders and/or interest rate payments, then utilities have a perverse incentive to tilt everything it does toward maximizing its own capital investment. The only check on the prudency of its investments is the PUC, which must approve most such expenditures.

The good thing about this strange profit mechanism is that, because it basically guarantees that the utility will earn a return on its investments, it’s quite easy for utilities to sell stock and bonds to finance the investment. All of which brings us to the bill on the Governor’s desk and our leaders’ fears of bond-rating agencies.

The bill tries to eliminate this perverse incentive, which basically rewards the utility for maximizing costs, by instead setting revenue based on performance metrics – outcomes that measure value to the utility’s customers and the larger community. These can be anything from measures that show better operation of its power plants to save costs, higher customer satisfaction, and better pollution outcomes.

Performance adjustments already exist in a limited form, but to my knowledge, performance outcomes are not used as the main source of return for any utility. The bill pushes for an unprecedented break from the status quo, and I gather that the Governor is worried (after very intense lobbying by certain interests) that if he signs the bill, HECO’s stock price and its bond rating could be punished by Wall Street….

I’m not the only economist who is cynical about the bond rating agencies. Paul Krugman has noted how markets shrugged after US and Japanese debt got downgraded….

[Lower bond ratings mean higher borrowing costs which means only one thing  … (drumroll please) … RATE HIKES … (clash cymbals)….]

read … Should regulators fear bond-rating agencies?

Honolulu’s Morgue Is So Run Down Even The Autopsy Room Leaks

CB: The odor of formaldehyde stings the air in the second floor laboratory of Honolulu’s Department of the Medical Examiner Iwilei facility. The scent clings to the throats of all who enter the room where technicians slice tissue in preparation for biopsies.

A fume hood is supposed to suck out the carcinogenic fumes, but the hood isn’t working properly.

“That means we get exposed to it more,” said Michele Rubio, one of two lab technicians at the facility. 

If staff members hover above samples too long they become light-headed or their eyes start to burn, she said. They wear masks but not full respirators.

Occasionally a bird falls through the fume hood.

Rubio likes to keep a bottle of lotion on her desk, but the rats that infest the building keep chewing through the plastic.

Built in 1986, the crumbling facility has had no major repairs. Now, there are real concerns that the condition of the facility is threatening the health of workers and visitors to the building. Criminal cases also could be at risk if evidence collected by the medical examiner becomes tainted due to contamination from leaks or unsafe handling….

HNN: Honolulu medical examiner forced to store human remains off site

read … Honolulu’s Morgue Is So Run Down Even The Autopsy Room Leaks

HPD 257 Positions Vacant Will Skip Some Crimes

HNN: … Chief Susan Ballard says her department is short 257 officers and it will take years to fill those gaps. A condensed recruitment process and academy will help.

Ballard says that the departments is also looking to add lateral transfers so police officers from the mainland can get credit for their service with an abbreviated academy.  She says they already have experience, they just need to learn Hawaii laws, so they shouldn't be forced to go through the entire year long training process.

Meanwhile, victims of non-violent, less serious crimes are getting a letter from HPD saying the department doesn't have the resources to investigate.

"The property crimes, you know, we're still going to do some of the investigations if we have the leads," Ballard said. "But if we don't have the leads, and we don't have the staffing to chase after the leads, then we just don't have the personnel." …

SA: Hiring should be top HPD priority

read … HPD chief on vacancies

HPD hands Criminals to Feds to Avoid ‘Revolving Door Soft on Crime Local Judiciary

HNN: …Project Safe Neighborhoods is a joint effort that gives county agencies an opportunity to ask for help from various federal law enforcement agencies.

That helps because federal laws often come with mandatory minimum sentences, eliminating the 'revolving door' police often complain about when it comes to career criminals.

"What's the best bang for our buck? Who's going to get the best sentencing for this person and get them off the road and keep them off the road," says Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard, who says the feds are ready to be called when HPD needs help.

"They're just chomping at the bit to get cases from us."

PSN started in 2001 but in recent years, funding dropped.

The Justice Department announced late last year that it is resurrecting the program in an effort to cut crime nationwide.  PSN targets gangs, guns, drugs and repeat offenders.

"Project Safe Neighborhoods is being reinvigorated.  A lot of energy and resources are being put back in Project Safe Neighborhoods both in Hawaii and elsewhere," says Kenji Price, United States Attorney for the Hawaii district.

One example of how the partnership works, Wayne Okagbue.  The man who robbed multiple business in Central Oahu in a 2016 crime spree.

Honolulu Police arrested him but then handed him over to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms for prosecution.

Last September, Okagbue pleaded guilty to Hobbs Act violations, a federal gun law.

He is serving 40 months in a federal prison.

Another example, Isaiah McCoy. The former death row inmate, was arrested by HPD for warrants last year.

Homeland Security started investigating alleged pimping and Human Trafficking violations and then took over the case.

McCoy is currently at the Federal Detention Center awaiting trial.

HPD has also turned over recent bank robbery suspects to the FBI.

read … Local police getting more federal funding, backing to deal with repeat offenders

Group aims to tackle issues surrounding maternal, infant deaths in Hawaii

Studies show that there are about 10 to 15 maternal deaths each year in Hawaii, and that the U.S. has the worst maternal mortality rate in the developed world.

Out of the roughly 19,000 babies born in the Aloha State for example, studies show that 40 percent are sleeping with their parents.

Many of these findings are coming out of the state health department's Child Death and Maternal Mortality Reviews, where multiple partners including hospitals, the University of Hawaii's John A. Burns School of Medicine and government agencies meet regularly to try to prevent these deaths….

In 2016, 18 infants in Hawaii died unexpectedly.

"Fifteen of the 18 [infant] deaths were in bed with their parents, and most likely [suffocated] as a result of being rolled over by their parents," said Dr. Pantell….

read … Group aims to tackle issues surrounding maternal, infant deaths in Hawaii

UH Hilo Enrollment Plunges Even As Campus Grows

CB: …Millions of dollars have been spent to enlarge and spruce up the university, but there’s a five-year trend of fewer students….

read … UH Hilo Enrollment Plunges Even As Campus Grows

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