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Thursday, May 28, 2009
May 28, 2009 News Read
By Andrew Walden @ 8:24 AM :: 9845 Views

Hawaii's tourist decline eases to 1.3% in April, but they spent less

Visitor arrivals last month dipped a modest 1.3 percent from April 2008, a major improvement over the double-digit declines that have dominated the past 12 months.  Part of the improvement is because Aloha Airlines and ATA both ceased operations at the end of March 2008. So April was the first month when the year-on-year arrival numbers did not reflect the drop in passengers from those two airlines.

SB: Tourism drought

Maui News: Visitor count down in April

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$90M drop in revenue expected

The current projection, which the council made in March, had the state taking in 5 percent less than it did last year. Lawmakers expect that to be lowered to 7 percent, which translates into a revenue decrease of about $90 million.

The declining revenues are already reflected in state budget cuts. The Department of Education, for instance, said it has cut $39 million from its budget.

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Unions say Lingle now pursuing wage cuts

State union leaders say Gov. Linda Lingle has switched from calling for furloughs to demanding that state workers take pay cuts.

Leaders of the Hawaii Government Employees Association and the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly declined to say how much of a pay cut the state was seeking, but they said the total was more than would have resulted from the proposed furloughs of 16 to 18 days a year.

The four public employee unions -- United Public Workers and the Hawaii State Teachers Association, along with HGEA and UHPA -- have had one meeting with Marie Laderta, state director of human resource development, who is handling negotiations for Lingle, according to the unions.

The meeting was unproductive, the unions said.

"The state continues to maintain that the only way to balance the budget is through severe cuts to the employees, either through their wages or medical benefits," said Randy Perreira, HGEA executive director.

On May 12, the unions sent Lingle a letter saying they were seeking "a universal solution to the financial issues resulting from the current economic recession."

The letter came a week after Lingle told reporters that unions that settled early with the state would get a better deal.

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Hawaii offers tax amnesty — but only if you pay up in next 30 days

People who have failed to file state tax returns or under-reported their income are being given a chance to wipe the slate clean.

Over the next month, the state is offering a tax amnesty program encouraging offenders to step forward to pay what they owe without being charged a penalty.

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Hawaii again has priciest gas in U.S.

Prices came down from historic levels reached last summer but have been creeping back up in recent months as crude oil inches up. Since the start of the year, crude prices are up 41 percent.

Some analysts expect prices to rise higher because an economic recovery would drive up demand for petroleum. Moreover, state and county taxes may rise this summer, hitting consumers who've already cut back spending because of the economic downturn.

Prices in all counties have been going up, with a gallon of regular crossing the $3 a gallon threshold on Maui yesterday.

In Honolulu, the average price was $2.643, while in Hilo it was $3.013. AAA does not survey Kaua'i prices.

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SB: Too soon for online-only voting

Neighborhood board elections relying heavily on Internet balloting resulted in abysmal voter turnout, indicating that online voting, if ready for prime time where needed, has not been tested enough to take the lead role.

Other experiments should be conducted without undermining election results, as this week's round came close to doing.

Given the choice of voting online or by telephone, only 7,289 of 115,000 registered voters on Oahu cast ballots, a turnout rate of 6 percent, compared with 28 percent in neighborhood-board elections two years ago. Internet voting was allowed in the 2007 board elections but accounted for only 10 percent of the total vote, most of which was cast by mail.

This year's voting was billed as the first paperless, all-electronic election in the nation, although other elections including the Internet have been conducted across the country — or withdrawn. In the 2004 election, 100,000 military personnel and other voters overseas were slated to vote via the Internet in the primary and general elections in Hawaii and six other states, but the Pentagon abruptly canceled the pilot program after four prominent cyber-security experts urged that it be shut down.

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Advertiser: A wake-up call for neighborhood boards

Indeed, the new system apparently did play some role in the lousy results; changing the way people cast ballots in the election to an unfamiliar method couldn't have helped.

But blaming the online system — which appeared to work as advertised — isn't the answer.

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Aiona has challenger for GOP nomination for governor 

John Carroll faces an uphill battle against Aiona, who has already been endorsed by Gov. Linda Lingle and is being assisted by the state Republican Party.

Lingle defeated Carroll in the 2002 primary by a 9 to 1 margin.

Carroll announced the launching of an exploratory campaign committee at a private gathering Wednesday.

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Tom Pico Jr.: Vigilant in His Effort to Make Hawaii A Better Place in Which to Live

Family of well-known local attorney Tom Pico, Jr. confirmed he died late last week. His family is not releasing any other details about his death at this time.

Pico was the Health insurance regulation attorney for the State of Hawaii Department of Commerce & Consumer Affairs.

Most recently, he was in the news as a candidate in the April 2009 special city council election held to fill the vacancy left when Council Member Barbara Marshall died earlier in the year.

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Univ of Hawaii-Maui?

If the Board of Regents approves a proposal to offer a second bachelor's degree at Maui Community College, it will likely mean a name change for the Kahului campus to the University of Hawaii-Maui, UH President David McClain said in a memo to the regents.

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Maui nonprofit housing agency defaulted on $8M from county

WAILUKU - Maui Economic Concerns of the Community did intend to pay back county loans, but defaulted when plans for financing and future projects were dropped after a change in the county administration, said former Executive Director Charlie Ridings.

Ridings said he relied on a verbal commitment that county officials would obtain grants, vouchers or other subsidies for the agency, when he agreed to accept millions of dollars in loans to develop a homeless shelter in West Maui.

He also expected to get county support to build an affordable rental facility in South Maui that he believed would generate revenue to help pay the loans.

But Ridings said he later learned the subsidies wouldn't be available, and when former Department of Housing and Human Concerns Director Alice Lee retired and the administration of Mayor Charmaine Tavares took over in 2007, the discussed South Maui facility didn't move forward.

"If the county had fulfilled their obligation - which wasn't in writing - we would have had no problem at all paying the debt for the west side facility," Ridings said.

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Kenoi promises stronger ethics code

HILO -- Beset with costly contracts and the appearance of conflicts of interest, Mayor Billy Kenoi vowed Tuesday to strengthen the county ethics code to prevent more of the same during his administration.

Kenoi made clear that most of the problems hitting West Hawaii Today's headlines -- such as the sale and lease back of a county bulldozer, disputes about a road resurfacing project and the apparent bid-rigging of a contract held by a county employee to clean dry wells -- predate his administration....

Kenoi said the first change he's seeking is to ban county employees from competing for county contracts.
The mayor earlier this month yanked a bid request for dry well pumping after a former vendor charged specifications were altered so the only qualifier was the current vendor, Kamaaina Pumping, a company mostly owned by a division director in the Department of Public Works.

Kamaaina Pumping's current contract runs out June 30. The company, whose president and majority owner, (failed Mayoral Candidate) Randell Riley, head of the department's Automotive Division, has held the contract since at least 2003 and was paid $1.3 million last year alone, according to information provided by the county Finance Department.

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Kona: Additional hospital funds cover half the debt

However, the first of the new appropriations, about $3.7 million, will pay off only about half of what Kona Community Hospital owes its vendors, Chief Executive Officer Earl Greenia said.
State Sen. Josh Green, D-West Hawaii, said the omnibus health bill that the Legislature approved this session will add $60 million to Hawaii Health System Corp. appropriations over the next two years, while allowing the state-supported hospitals -- which include Kona Community Hospital and Hilo Medical Center -- to consider privatization or becoming nonprofits.

That's a step hospital administration can't do without the Legislature giving the hospitals authority, Greenia said.
"It gives us the flexibility to pursue other legal structures, such as nonprofits," he said. "That would allow us to compete for philanthropic money."
As a public hospital, philanthropic funding sources are not available, he added.

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Kauai Mayor to sign budget

The state Legislature’s decision to not raid the counties’ shares of the TAT was likely the pivotal moment of the 10-week-long budget process. Had the $11.2 million been taken, the council and administration would likely still be working to cut programs and balance the budget, officials have said.
“We are very pleased with the collaboration between the County Council and the administration throughout the budget process,” Carvalho said in an e-mail.

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