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Sunday, May 7, 2023
May 7, 2023 News Read
By Andrew Walden @ 5:47 PM :: 3681 Views

Tax Relief, RIP

Legislature on track to violate state's legal spending limit

Hawaii Congressional Delegation How They Voted May 6, 2023

Sewage Plant Spews Filth into Kailua Bay

‘What the hell is this?’ Sen Dela Cruz Caught Lying about Hawaii Gov. Green’s $200M ‘pot of money’

SA: … Some House members who voted in protest against the new state budget ended the legislative session with questions about how leaders of both chambers ended up granting Gov. Josh Green power to use $200 million — accompanied by “safeguards” — to spend any way he wants.

Hawaii governors typically ask for discretionary spending — a request that was denied by the Legislature last year for Green’s predecessor, former Gov. David Ige, according to state Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, chair of the powerful Senate Ways and Means Committee.

This year’s proposal from the House originally recommended that Green be given the ability to control $1 billion in discretionary spending for backlogged repair and maintenance of state facilities, especially for public schools, said Dela Cruz (D, Mililani-Wahiawa-­Whitmore Village).

(CLUE:  Even this alleged $1B would have been restricted to projects on existing maintenance backlog lists.)

That much is agreed upon.

(Really? This is original HB300 and this is the HD1 version and this is the SD1 version.  Use ‘CTRL-F’ -- Where do you see “$1,000,000,000”?  Where do you see “backlog”?  The $200M does show up--but ONLY in the final CD1 budget.  Dela Cruz and the Star-Adv are lying.  Part III, Sec 12 of the original HB300 allocates $10,000 to the ‘governor’s contingent fund’ -- not $1B.)

But Dela Cruz said the original plan would not have restricted Green to spend the money only on repairs and maintenance, meaning the governor could have used $1 billion for any state programs or projects.

“It was basically unlimited and without a reporting requirement,” Dela Cruz said.

(CLUE: Total fiction--does not exist anywhere in any of the budget drafts.)

Instead, the Senate and House ultimately voted to give Green the flexibility to spend $200 million as he sees fit, with a new caveat that he must inform the Legislature about his intentions 14 days ahead of any discretionary spending, and then report back what he actually did, said House Speaker Scott Saiki.

“It’s kind of historical,” Saiki said. “There are more safeguards.”…

(IQ Test: Are you laughing?)

Key senators and state representatives could not even agree in the aftermath of the annual session, which opened Jan. 18, whether the budget calls for cuts to both the state Department of Education and University of Hawaii.

Exact details of the budget are not expected to be released for weeks, an unusually long delay….

Perruso (D, Wahiawa-­Whitmore Village-Mokuleia), a member of House leadership, called the exact details of how the discretionary spending became reality “a mystery.”…

First-term Rep. Elle Coch­ran (D, Waihee-­Lahaina-Lahainaluna) … said, “I never knew how this really operated. Now that I’m in and see it, it’s like ‘whoa.’”

Cochran served on the House Finance Committee this year and insisted she never heard any proposal to give Green $200 million in discretionary spending until other House members brought it up on the House floor on the last day while publicly declaring their opposition and concerns about the budget.

“I never heard about it until then,” she said. “We’re finalizing the budget and suddenly we heard about this pot (of money). It was blowing my mind. What the hell is this?”

Cochran represented the House on two conference committees and said, “It was never mentioned in any meeting or conference or hearings.”…

She and other House members voted on a previous budget proposal April 28 that Cochran insisted lacked any plan for discretionary spending.

“Then something over the weekend happened,” she said. “I wasn’t there. Who knows? All of a sudden there’s a $200 million pot of money.”…

“Right now, people have no clue what goes on,” Cochran said ….

Related: Dela Cruz News: Conference Committee Sneaks $200M Slush Fund into Budget

read … Hawaii Gov. Green’s $200M ‘pot of money’ under scrutiny

Hawaii’s housing crisis is self-inflicted

SA: … The reason that not enough housing is built in Hawaii is that regulations are onerous, numerous and convoluted. More often than not, it takes several years to get all of the necessary approvals.

First, there is the state Land Use Commission, which classifies the state’s land into four broad categories: agriculture, conservation, rural and urban. Housing can generally only be built in the urban district, with certain exceptions (Oprah Winfrey’s Maui mansion is located in an agricultural district). Only about 5% of the land in the state is classified as urban, so housing can only be built on around 5% of the land in the state. However, this doesn’t take into account other layers of regulations.

Another layer of regulations is county-level zoning, which is more explicit and detailed than the state land use districts. Each zone has restrictions for what can be built there. On Oahu, large swaths of the urban zone are zoned exclusively for single-family homes. This prevents duplexes, fourplexes, apartments and other types of affordable housing from being built. The utility of zoning has been much overstated. According to M. Nolan Gray, author of Arbitrary Lines: How Zoning Broke The American City And How To Fix It, “Nobody wants to build a warehouse or a shopping mall on your cul-de-sac, just as much as you don’t want a warehouse or shopping mall built on your cul-de-sac.” Zoning serves primarily to drive up housing costs by restricting the supply of housing and by delaying the development process.

There are more layers of regulations including island plans, height limits and neighborhood boards, but it would be impossible to cover all these layers of regulations in one article.

Exacerbating the housing crisis is permitting backlogs. On average, Hawaii residents wait three times longer for building permits than in other states. Currently, residential and commercial permits can take up to 24 months on Oahu. Clearing this backlog would be a tremendous step in making housing more affordable….

read … Hawaii’s housing crisis is self-inflicted

Civil Beat Owner at Center of ‘Censorship-Industrial Complex’

ZH: … The Omidyar Foundation, created by Ebay founder (and Civil Beat owner) Pierre Omidyar, has advocated the spying on and censorship of encrypted wrongspeak. “Reports of violence, disinformation, and manipulation campaigns originating on private messaging platforms have become all too common,” warned Omidyar Foundation in a January 2022 report. “Not only are individuals’ lives and liberties impacted, but dangerous platform design choices also have devastating implications for our democratic institutions and the health and well-being of our societies.”…

read … Now They're Trying To Censor Your Text Messages

Lobbyists Train Legislators Like Dogs

Borreca: … If you want your dog to listen to you, give your four-legged buddy a treat. Walks, pats on the head and warm praise may work, but nothing focuses their brain like treats.

If crunchy treats get your dog to listen, human treats, like campaign donations, also train your state representative, Senate and City Council member.

Start with sit, stay, fetch — and work your way up to run for office and vote this way. Reward for good behavior and you have a well-trained furry buddy or a lawmaker attuned to the scent of campaign cash….

I was standing next to a powerful Senate committee chairman, now deceased, who was reviewing the list of business and union leaders about to testify before his committee. He directed his clerk to make sure that every committee witness was sent a package of campaign fundraiser tickets. The obvious assumption being that if you want me to listen to your testimony, it is going to cost you….

read … Retraining legislators on lobbyists’ donations

How Lawmakers Killed off Ethics And Accountability Reforms in Conference

CB: … What about Senate Bill 1543, the comprehensive public financing of elections that was coldly snuffed out by the Senate Ways and Means Committee in the session’s final hours?

The primary culprit who did the snuffing, WAM Chair Donovan Dela Cruz, skipped the press conference. But WAM Vice Chair Gil Keith-Agaran recounted how the proposal continued to be discussed between Dela Cruz and Rep. Kyle Yamashita, the House Finance chair.

“And eventually I guess there was no resolution on it. … I think we worked pretty hard on it. I think the position of the Senate was that we wanted some kind of financing, even at the reduced amount at $7.5 (million dollars).”…

Tarnas pointed out that 20 of the 31 bills put forward by the Commission to Improve Standards of Conduct were passed by the Legislature. Most of the 11 that didn’t make it died in conference committee.

Tarnas, who played a key role in quashing a move toward legislative term limits that was proposed by the commission…

Tarnas also defended the House for rejecting two bills on nepotism, one of which would have applied to the Legislature, arguing that House rules were amended during session to incorporate “a nepotism prohibition.”

The Hawaii Constitution says “that the Legislature shall manage and discipline and regulate ourselves,” Tarnas said….

‘Gut and replace’ violation: Saiki was asked about another controversial bill that died mysteriously late in conference: House Bill 719, which would have capped charges for the reproduction of government records and waived costs altogether when those records could be provided electronically as well as when the public interest was served.

Saiki blamed the bill’s demise on the Senate trying to add in something it shouldn’t have at the last minute. “That was a gut and replace because the Senate added in Part 2, which provided for the deliberative process privilege,” he said….

CB: Many of the strongest measures intended to restore public confidence in government died with little explanation in the final days of the 2023 Legislature.

CB: It's Hard Not To Be Disappointed In What Was Supposed To Be A Big Year For Government Reform

read … Lawmakers Think They Did Well On Ethics And Accountability Reform This Session

Transparency?  Budget deal Hidden from Legislators -- but they approved it anyway 

SA: … the problems of a session that seemed to end in some budgetary confusion and frustration, especially on the House side. As the 2023 session wound to a close on Thursday, House members complained that the eleventh-hour dealmaking to hammer out a budget agreement was opaque, even to them.

Even some of those who sat on the conference committee to reach a deal had only a murky understanding of the budget details they were moving out for a floor vote. On its face, that’s a poor outcome for a Legislature that already has been criticized for a lack of public transparency on how it does business….

read … Surplus allows aid for working poor

How major bills fared at the Capitol

SA: … Here is the status of major bills following the end of the 60-day legislative session known as “sine die.” The bills that are alive passed both the House and Senate. Original bills that are known as acts already have been signed into law by the governor….

read … How major bills fared at the Capitol

Campaign Contributions Buy HMSA Execs Protection

SA: … The winners are the nonprofit HMSA executives and HMSA board of directors, many whose total compensations are in the millions of dollars annually.

The losers are the HMSA subscribers who pay the high monthly premium, while their high co-payments for prescription drugs as well as necessary laboratory work have increased exponentially — and the primary care doctors whose gross HMSA financial reimbursement have decreased 50% in the past five years while the cost of everything increases.

This is allowed by the state because of certain state senators and representative who receive HMSA financial contributions for the political protection….

SA: HMSA employees say executive compensation came as a shock

read … State, fix injustice to HMSA subscribers

HMSA employees squeezed hard while Execs Raked in Bucks

SA … Some employees say they received just 1% annual raises for two or three years in a row, which was particularly hard in 2022 as inflation soared.

In response, an HMSA spokesperson said the company did issue guidance in June 2020 that “budgets should be watched carefully” and pay increases limited to 0% to 2.5%, down from a maximum of 5%, due to the pandemic. She said that in 2021, salary increases were capped at 1.5%, with an average increase of 1%. In 2022, the average raise was 3%, according to the company.

Beginning in April 2021, HMSA also reduced the number of vacation hours employees could accrue, to 400 from 600 hours, saying it would reduce administrative expenses and help the community and company push through the hard times of the pandemic. Employees were told that any accrued personal time over 400 hours not used by the end of 2022 would be lost.

One employee said staff often worked extra hours during the pandemic and some were denied time off, so they had no choice but to lose weeks of accrued vacation leave.….

compensation, including salaries and bonuses, for HMSA’s top five officers increased 48% from 2020 to 2022….

HMSA President and CEO Mark Mugiishi received a $1.66 million bonus in 2021 on top of his $883,413 annual salary, bringing his total compensation to $2.55 million. Other top executives earned bonuses that year of between $305,945 and $475,032….

read … HMSA employees say executive compensation came as a shock

Proposed Council raises reflect greed and cynicism

Shapiro: … City Council Chair Tommy Waters hasn’t exactly led major progress on Honolulu’s pressing problems: rampant homelessness, crushing living costs, capricious property taxes, rail dysfunction, dilapidated parks, rutted roads.

But in engineering unprecedented 64% pay raises for himself and his colleagues at a time of economic hardship for many constituents, he’s displayed political wizardry — or deviousness, depending how you see it….

read … Proposed Council raises reflect greed and cynicism

$59 Million, Gone: How Bikini Atoll Leaders Blew Through U.S. Trust Fund

NYT: … the U.S. government established two trust funds in the 1980s to help pay for Bikinians’ health care, build housing and cover living costs. In 2017, after a campaign by Bikini leaders for greater autonomy, the Trump administration announced that the government would lift withdrawal limits and stop auditing the main fund, then worth $59 million.

Six years later, only about $100,000 remains, and the Bikini community is in crisis.

Anderson Jibas, the mayor of the council that oversees the displaced Bikini community, made a series of questionable purchases on Bikini’s behalf, including of a large plot of land in Hawaii and a fleet of new vehicles. He has defended some of the purchases as investments against climate change, as necessary to support isolated Bikinians and as attempts at revenue-generating projects.

Mr. Jibas has also acknowledged using trust fund money for personal expenses and has been accused by a top Marshall Islands official of receiving kickbacks from an investment manager — a charge Mr. Jibas denies.

With the fund virtually depleted, the council’s roughly 350 employees are no longer being paid. Monthly payments of about $150 each to the community’s 6,800 members — a vital lifeline that helped cover food and rent among a population with high rates of poverty — have ceased….

read … $59 Million, Gone: How Bikini Atoll Leaders Blew Through U.S. Trust Fund

With One Airline Left, Molokai And Lanai Residents Struggle To Access Medical Care

CB: … Molokai and Lanai travelers now have one choice when traveling by air: Mokulele Airlines. Two other airlines that used to serve the islands — Makani Kai and Ohana by Hawaiian — ceased operations in November 2020 and January 2021, respectively, as the Covid-19 pandemic decimated the travel sector, prompting airline bankruptcies, closures and downsizings worldwide.

The last surviving public airline servicing Molokai and Lanai has since become a target of a months-long barrage of customer complaints over lengthy travel delays and flight cancellations that began early this year. The ongoing disruption has caused many patients to miss pressing appointments with Honolulu doctors — in some cases repeatedly.

“We’ve got many more failure points now in terms of the ability to get patients to see doctors on a timely basis,” said Hilton Raethel, chief executive officer of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii that represents the state’s hospitals and other health care facilities. “The access isn’t increasing, it’s decreasing, unfortunately, from what we had even just a couple of years ago. And it’s very, very concerning.”

Mokulele executives publicly acknowledged recent shortcomings primarily affecting Molokai and Lanai residents and promised in March to “step up” service. But the problem goes beyond the temporary air travel mess that is a result of factors ranging from pilot availability and aircraft maintenance issues to crowded runways and fickle weather.

An enduring issue is that Mokulele primarily operates nine-passenger Cessna Grand Caravans that can fill up quickly, making last-minute medical travel difficult even when flight schedules run smoothly. …

read … With One Airline Left, Molokai And Lanai Residents Struggle To Access Medical Care   

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