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Thursday, April 14, 2011
April 14, 2011 News Read
By Andrew Walden @ 12:38 PM :: 8224 Views

Crisis?  GE Tax receipts up 5.9% in February, TAT up 22.4%

Hawaii general fund deposits for February were down 4 percent compared to the same month in 2010, according to a report from the Hawaii Department of Taxation.

The decrease in funds is attributed to accrued income tax refunds that were released last July. If the accrued refunds are factored out, the general fund deposits for February actually increased by 2.6 percent.

General excise and use taxes collected in February totaled $192.3 million; year-to-date fiscal 2011 collections of the general excise and use taxes have increased by 5.9 percent compared to collections during the previous year.

In addition, transient accommodations tax collections for February totaled $23.1 million. Fiscal 2011 collections of the transient accommodations tax are up 22.4 percent compared to last year.

Hmmmmm: CoR: Tsunami effect smallish, Weak February tax receipts major factor

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Abercrombie keeps pounding drums for more taxes, spending

"As it stands right now, passing an increase in the GE tax is pretty slim. But what is on the table is whether those folks who have tax exemptions will be asked to pay their share," added Abercrombie.

CB: PHOCUSED to demand more money from Taxpayers

RESPOND:  No New Taxes! Rally April 15--Honolulu, Kona, Hilo, Kahului, Lihue

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Senate votes to delay 180-day School Year

State senators voted on Tuesday to delay a mandate for minimum instructional days at public schools until 2014 because of budget concerns. Parents had pushed for the requirement after their disappointment with teacher furloughs on classroom instruction days.

The bill now goes to conference committee with the House.

The mandate was hailed last year by many parents and educators as one of the positive things to come out of the furlough mess. But quietly, some key lawmakers and labor leaders questioned at the time how the state would pay for the requirement.

The two parents who worked hardest on the mandate – Melanie Bailey and Kathy Bryant-Hunter – have tried to keep it on schedule, but the chances look poor.

AP: Senate to confirm new BoE Members Today

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Toothless Resolution: Audit the DoE

House Finance passed a resolution requesting a financial and management audit of the Hawaii Department of Education.

The "reso," which was co-authored by Roy Takumi, reads in part:

WHEREAS, today, the Department of Education remains under close public scrutiny, both locally and nationally; and

WHEREAS, the public has raised many questions about the Department's operations, including its finances and management; and

WHEREAS, a financial and management audit of the Department of Education is long overdue; and

WHEREAS, an audit of the Department would improve critical educational services provided by this large taxpayer-funded institution that absorbs a large percentage of the state budget, by examining in-depth the effectiveness and efficiency of departmental operations, both at the management and administrative levels.

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Shapiro: Sen Kim really interested in House Race

I’m not convinced Kim is seriously interested in running for the U.S. Senate. My guess is that her real interest is one of the U.S. House seats, where Kim would be a serious contender, if Hanabusa and/or Hirono go for the Senate.

With no House seat currently open, the easiest way to form a federal campaign committee and start getting her name out there is to do it for the open Senate seat and switch to the House later if the opportunity arises.

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Sixteen Abercrombie Nominees Have Withdrawn

Gov. Neil Abercrombie has withdrawn at least 16 of his government appointees — 10 within the last 10 days.

That works out to 6 percent of the total 263 appointments the governor has informed the state Senate of as of April 13.

Among the latest withdrawn appointees is John Garibaldi, the former Hawaii Superferry executive, whom the governor nominated on March 22 to serve on the board of directors of the Hawaii Hurricane Relief Fund.

On April 6 the governor notified the Senate that Garibaldi had withdrawn his name.

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SA: Legislature should not re-write Prison Sentences to release criminals

Many inmates would be released from Hawaii state prisons earlier than the length of sentences imposed by judges under a bill being considered by the state Legislature. While that would make room for inmates serving time in private prisons on the mainland to be brought back to Hawaii, it is the wrong way to let prisoners go free early.

(The argument is that many judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys are soooo stupid that they did not know the difference between consecutive and concurrent sentences.  Anyone who believes this claim is a dumb as the judges.)

Now legislators, citing cases of inequity that caused some inmates' prison time to be recalculated and extended, want that standard to be applied all the way back to 1986, when the consecutive terms were automatic unless the judge decided otherwise. That could result in the immediate release of hundreds of inmates serving consecutive terms and, in effect, overturn sentences handed down by judges. It also would violate the separation of powers doctrine, which prohibits the legislative branch of government from overturning Judiciary rulings, as pointed out by state Attorney General David M. Louie.

Louie points out, people who committed heinous crimes and were deliberately sentenced to consecutive terms — although sentencing records don't mention the word "consecutive" — might obtain a drastic reduction of their prison time.

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Senators moot requiring tax payments for online sales

Senators, meanwhile, prefer the state join the Streamlined Sales Tax Project, which encourages online and mail-order retailers to collect local taxes. "Encourage" being the operative word; only 1,400 retailers have tied into the project, bringing into question the efficacy of the effort. Estimates of lost revenue to the state range from $30 million to $122 million a year, at a time when lawmakers are on the hunt for every nickel and dime to plug a budget deficit.

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Senate passes HB985 giving money to losing bidders

Hawaii Senators passed a bill today that will financially reward businesses that bid – but don’t win – state government contracts. The premise is that businesses invest time and money into preparing the bids and should be compensated for participating.

Sens. Donna Mercado Kim and Sam Slom both opposed the HB 985, HD2, SD2, saying businesses know what they are getting into when they bid and should not be compensated for losing. Several senators expressed reservations, but in the end, 22 senators supported the bill and just two opposed it.

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Engineering Firm that designed defective $1.9 water tank continues to bid

The engineering firm that designed a $1.9 million water tank county officials say is defective has been considered for 18 additional county contracts but was awarded only one since the county sued it.
The Department of Water Supply filed a lawsuit against consultant Wesley R. Segawa & Associates in September 2009. The county had paid Segawa $109,300 to design the tank and assist the Water Board during the bidding and construction process. The tank project was paid for with customer fees collected by the department.
The million-gallon water tank has sat, unused, at Komohana and Kawailani streets in Hilo since 2004. The Water Department claims the concrete roof is cracked and sagging because of poor design and deficient steel reinforcement.

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State Tax Credits On Chopping Block At Legislature (Plenty of money for Corporate Welfare)

Hawaii taxpayers are covering a quarter of the cost of a new solar parking canopy project for Oceanic Time Warner Cable.

Tioga’s executive vice president Greg Saunders said the state is covering 25 percent of the system's cost at $1.25 million.

The federal government is paying for 30 percent of the project at a cost of $1.5 million, Saunders said.

"Oceanic Time Warner does not have to pay all the costs for solar up front. They literally get the system for free….

A House bill still on the table is proposing ending tax credits for renewable energy technology systems built after Dec. 31, 2014.

But some state lawmakers are looking to end tax credits because they cost the state too much.

A House bill still on the table is proposing ending tax credits for renewable energy technology systems built after Dec. 31, 2014.

"Incentives are important to the industry now as it gets started, but later on they won't be needed and solar energy and other renewables can stand on their own two feet," Saunders said.

The bill would also require the state business, economic development and tourism department to assess the need for further tax credits after 2014.

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Honolulu County: Higher gas tax advances

The 1-cent increase in the fuel tax is part of a phased 6 cents per gallon increase over the next three fiscal years.

The Budget Committee also advanced a proposed real property tax rate of $3.50 per $1,000 of assessed value. The rate is an 8-cent increase for resident homeowners, and an equivalent decrease for nonoccupant homeowners.

KITV: Mayor's Fuel Tax Increase Faces Opposition

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FTA did NOT require Phased-In Approach For Rail

William Aila, chair of the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, found himself at the center of a rail debate during his confirmation hearing.

In a questionnaire circulated to lawmakers, Aila was asked: "As the State Historic Preservation Officer you signed the Mass Transit Programmatic Agreement which authorized a phased in approach. Critics of this approach have indicated that this approach will assure that more NH (Native Hawaiian) burials will be disturbed because there will be additional pressure not to consider alternative routes once construction begins, how do you answer to those critics?"

Aila replied: "The Federal Transit Authority required a phased in approach in implementing a construction schedule for Rail development. In addition, completing an Archeological Inventory Survey (AIS) is not practical in this situation as the City and County of Honolulu does not own the land along the proposed route, does not have the funds to condemned (sic) the land along the proposed route, and it is problematic to remove existing commercial buildings and businesses to conduct an AIS in light of the reasons listed above. The Programmatic Agreement has protective processes to deal with Burial and Historic Architecture issues that may arise."

It is true that the phased approach has been adopted for Honolulu's rail project. There are four phases for the project, beginning in Kapolei and terminating in Kakaako.

But was Aila accurate in saying that the FTA required the phased approach for rail?

Not according to the FTA.

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Councilman loses bid to stop state from "looting" rail funds

The vote was 6-3 against Resolution 11-91, CD1.

Councilmen Ikaika Anderson and Council Chairman Nestor Garcia supported Berg's resolution, with Garcia voting yes with reservations.

Berg said the state's 10 percent take of the rail surcharge tax amounted to a "fleecing" of city taxpayers. The councilman says the actual cost of collecting the tax is about 2 percent.

RELATED: Honolulu Councilmembers reject Berg resolution, cite fear of retaliation, Berg: Council could reverse Ansaldo Rail Contract

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Hawaii Investigates with Matt Levi: A New Television Series Begins This Week

Newly Appointed  Supreme Court Justice Sabrina McKenna is a key interview. The first show takes viewers behind the walls of Hawai`i’s youth prison- the Hawai`i Youth Correctional Facility. It is the last stop in the Hawai`i juvenile justice system and was declared in a state of “chaos” by the federal  government just a few years ago.

Levi speaks to administrators, staff, and the young inmates themselves.

“Twenty-six years ago, I  took the first cameras into the youth prison and interviewed  teenage offenders confined there,” explains Levi.  “ I wanted to know, has the system changed since then? Is money spent on youth corrections being spent wisely?” Levi tracked down former inmates, who are now in their forties. They agreed to be interviewed. We’ll see whether they have changed, and what they want to tell today’s young people about which path to follow.

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Unity House files for Bankruptcy

Donald L. Spafford Jr., the local attorney who filed the Chapter 11 petition for Unity House, said the filing was an emergency basis that prevented a better estimate. He agreed that assets should be more than $10 million.

Boersema said the Lotus was appraised at $12.7 million in September, while the headquarters, which is being marketed for sale, is worth close to $4 million.

The Lotus hotel loan is Unity House's biggest debt. The nonprofit also listed $339,000 in debts owed to creditors who don't have claims secured by Unity House assets.

Most of these unsecured debts involve present and past Unity House officers, including a $100,000 loan owed to Vice President Adam Enos and a $150,000 disputed claim for legal fee reimbursements from former executive Aaron Rutledge.

Unity House, which at one time had more than $40 million in assets, has been under financial pressure in the past few years, and in that time has curtailed or suspended its biggest charitable-giving programs, including providing child care assistance and scholarships for beneficiaries.

The nonprofit founded in 1951 has more than 20,000 beneficiaries, mainly families of present and past members of two of Hawaii's biggest unions, the Teamsters and Unite Here Local 5.

Meltdowns in stock and real estate markets in recent years dramatically reduced Unity House's income from its investments and led to program suspensions.

One major loss resulted from an investment Unity House made in a Wai­pio industrial condominium development that was lost in foreclosure after unit buyers dried up in the market collapse.

Unity House responded by cutting program spending from nearly $1.6 million in 2008 to $620,320 in 2009, according to tax returns. Information isn't available for 2010.

RELATED: Unity House HQ up for Sale

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Foreclosure counts expected to rebound

Foreclosure activity in Hawaii real estate declined for a fourth consecutive month in March, falling 37 percent from a year earlier, according to a report industry research firm RealtyTrac released yesterday.

The count — 691 foreclosure filings last month — was the lowest in nearly two years. It was also less than half the record 1,629 reached in August.

But RealtyTrac and local foreclosure attorneys say recent declines likely will be over soon when several major lenders resume more normal processing of delinquent mortgage cases after resolving issues with improper case documentation.

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Central Pacific stock down more than 20%

Central Pacific Financial Corp.'s stock had more than one-fifth of its value wiped out yesterday after 18.5 million new shares issued predominantly to private investors became tradable on the market.

Shares of Central Pacific Bank's parent plunged $3.97, or 20.8 percent, to $15.10 on the New York Stock Exchange. The volume was heavy at 327,615 shares, more than seven times its daily average of 45,748. Central Pacific's stock is down 50.7 percent this year.

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Anti-GMO Luddites cry about their failures in Legislature

This current session of the Hawai’i legislature, so far, has not born much good news for those who want stronger regulation of genetically modified food.

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Fireworks blast victims died from carbon monoxide inhalation

According to the M.E., 24-year-old Robert Freeman died of thermal burns and asphyxia from carbon monoxide inhalation.

Justin Kelii, 29-years-old, and Neil Sprankle, 24-years-old, died from the toxic effects of carbon monoxide inhalation.

Meanwhile, The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has deployed a four-person team to Hawaii.

CSB Investigator-in-Charge Don Holmstrom arrived in Honolulu on Sunday to begin gathering information. The CSB team has initiated interviews with eyewitnesses and is documenting site conditions.

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WSJ: The GOP and the Birther Trap

The problem for Republicans is that some significant figures within the party are giving a wink and a nod to his efforts. Sarah Palin has said, "I believe [Mr. Obama] was born in Hawaii," but in recent days she also said, "More power to [Mr. Trump]. He's not just throwing stones from the sidelines, he's digging in, he's paying for researchers to find out why President Obama would have spent $2 million to not show his birth certificate." (Ms. Palin has refused journalists' requests to explain where the $2 million figure comes from.)

Representative Michele Bachmann (R., Minn.) has said that she takes the president at his word and doesn't care about the issue. But she has added: "The president just has to give proof and verification, and there it goes"—even though proof and verification have already been given.

When prominent figures in a party play footsie with peddlers of paranoia, the party suffers an erosion of credibility. While certain corners of a party's base might be energized by conspiracy theories, the majority of the electorate will be turned off by them. People are generally uneasy about political institutions that give a home to cranks.

There's more than a partisan cost to all this. Mr. Trump is succumbing to a pernicious temptation in American politics: not simply to disagree with political opponents, but to try to delegitimize them. The argument isn't simply that Mr. Obama is wrong on almost every public policy matter (which I believe he is). Rather, the argument is that his presidency is unconstitutional and that he is alien.

Something like this happened with Mr. Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush, who inspired such rage in some of his critics that they deemed his presidency illicit.

NJ: Priebus Says He Didn't Tell Trump to 'Shut Up'

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