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Tuesday, January 19, 2021
January 19, 2021 News Read
By Andrew Walden @ 6:22 PM :: 1334 Views

New report calls for reform of state's emergency powers

Hawaii's Lum Crime Family Pays Lobbyist for Last-Minute Trump Pardon

Hawaii Cost of Living Nearly Double US Average

Honolulu #1 -- Most Unaffordable Home Ownership in USA

Hawaii Best-paying State for Nurses--But Still 8th Worst Housing Hours Worked

Rate Hike Coming: HECO to pay $25M to put Tesla Batteries in 6,000 Homes

Hawaii Families, Educators Celebrating School Choice Week

$700M Tax Hike Coming

CB: … failing to continue to shovel money to HGEA UPW UHPA HSTA is “an urgent test of our moral character…”  (LOL!)

This year, I will introduce an omnibus revenue generation bill to close the state’s budget shortfall by increasing taxes on those who can afford to pay a little more to uplift their neighbors’ well-being.

To begin, my proposal would raise income taxes on our state’s highest earners, with those in the top bracket paying a 13% income tax rate.

My bill would also gradually phase out the benefit of lower tax brackets for Hawaii’s richest residents, who pay a significantly lower portion of their earnings in state and local taxes than lower-income families, while increasing our state’s capital gains tax to 11% for wealthy investors.

Additionally, we should replace our state’s tiered corporate income tax with a flat rate of 9.6%….

Given the escalating cost of home prices in the islands, it’s clear that state leaders need to use our tax system to disincentivize investment property speculation.

We can do that by raising conveyance tax rates (taxes paid on property sales) for properties valued at a million dollars or greater….

Finally, following the strategy pursued by lawmakers during the Great Recession, we should temporarily repeal general excise tax exemptions that distort the application of our state’s biggest source of revenue.

In 2011, legislators briefly suspended 31 excise tax exemptions to address the state’s deficit. Those exemptions were valued at over $250 million in 2018, according to a report published by the state auditor last year.

Together, these proposals could generate over $700 million per year for our (bosses, the public employee unions)…

read … It’s Time For Hawaii To Tax The Rich

Hawaii Burned $1.3B on COVID Unemployment. Businesses May Have To Pay The Tab

CB: … The state borrowed $700 million to pay unemployment benefits, but businesses may have to repay it….

House Finance Chairwoman Sylvia Luke said Hawaii businesses cannot possibly pay off that debt by the November 2022 deadline to retire the loan, and said the administration should be prepared to help.

If the loan is left entirely to the business community to repay through unemployment taxes and other surcharges, “basically you guys will force employers out of business, because they can barely keep their business afloat, and then you are going to hit them with a huge price tag.”…

The Hawaii trust fund held $600 million at the end of 2019, but was quickly drained last year as much of the local economy shut down during the pandemic. The state unemployment rate topped 23% in April, and tens of thousands of workers filed for unemployment benefits.

Once the UI fund was depleted, the state began borrowing from the federal government to continue to pay benefits. As of Thursday the state owed $700.7 million in loans under the program, money that employers are obligated to repay through a surcharge on their unemployment taxes….

The administration budgeted $36 million over the next two years to pay the interest on the UI loan, but has not said how the principal will be repaid. If the loan is not repaid, the Federal Unemployment Tax Act calls for the federal government to suspend a federal tax credit that Hawaii employers now enjoy.

FUTA imposes a 6% federal unemployment tax rate on the first $7,000 in employee wages paid annually to each worker. But employers in states that are in compliance with the federal law and have no outstanding UI loans enjoy a much lower FUTA tax rate of 0.6%.

If the $700 million Hawaii loan or an even larger loan is outstanding after Nov. 10, 2022, Hawaii employers will begin to lose that credit. The U.S. Department of Labor will phase out the credit in a series of steps that escalate significantly after three years….

read … Hawaii Owes The Feds $700 Million. Businesses May Have To Pay The Tab

Carbon Taxes Will Raise Taxes -- But Will It Reduce Emissions?

IM: … An income tax doesn`t eliminate income, it doesn`t stop people from making money.

A general excise tax doesn`t stop people from buying goods.

A carbon tax won`t stop emissions.

All three are simply ways to increase governmental coffers.

Some economists recommend a hidden carbon tax, one embedded in the price of goods. In that way, no consumer will know what their carbon footprint is. But somehow this will incentivize businesses to be green.

By hiding the tax from the public, the tax rate can be easily increased, and the use of the funds can be easily diverted to the general fund or for pet projects.

Hawaii Public Radio reported today on the 2021 Hawai`i State Legislature. Carbon taxes have "broad support from economists in general as one of the easiest ways to reduce carbon."

Globally, carbon taxes raise money while greenhouse gas emissions reach record levels.

Globally, carbon subsidies are far more generous than carbon taxes.

Carbon taxes often contain gimmicks, numerous loopholes, superficial analysis, poorly defined policies, and the desire to assert something is being accomplished even if it isn`t…..

In pre-Covid times, one-third of all emissions were related to the tourist industry: air flights and rental cars….

Ireland`s Sinn Féin (March 2019): “Carbon taxation does not reduce carbon emissions. Carbon tax generates taxes.”

The Indigenous Environmental Network and the Climate Justice Alliance, “Carbon pricing is a name for a tool that governments, financial institutions, and corporations have adopted in order to try to reconcile their continuing commitment to fossil fuel use with the need to appear to take action on climate change. Carbon pricing includes emissions trading, cap and trade, carbon offset trading, carbon taxes, and penalty and payment schemes.”

Food & Water Watch, “Carbon taxes – while popular with economists – have proven to be ineffective at actually reducing emissions in the real world. And according to research prepared for the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, we will actually see an increase in electricity from fracked gas under a carbon tax plan they studied.” 

Greenpeace USA, “Proposals for carbon taxes and cap-and-trade have taken up too much climate-solution oxygen in recent years, and so far, they have been flimsy half measures porous with loopholes. They come nowhere close to meeting the scale of the crisis.”

read … Carbon Taxes Will Raise Taxes -- But Will It Reduce Emissions?

Fear of Violence Exploited to Keep Public in the Dark at Hawaii Legislature

SA: … Wednesday’s opening of the new legislative session will be like no other — with the state Capitol ringed with security because of potential threats of violence, indefinitely off-limits to the public due to COVID-19 and the ongoing challenge of trying to plot the state’s economic future with few details to reply upon, an issue that’s expected to dominate hearings over the next few months….

House Speaker Scott Saiki plans no remarks Wednesday morning if he is reelected by his Democratic colleagues to lead the House….

Instead, Saiki expects only a pro forma adherence to state constitutional requirements that mandate that the legislative session begin at 10 a.m. with a roll call and swearing in by state Supreme Court Justice Mark Recktenwald….

“If reelected,” Saiki said, “I’ll reschedule a speech for a day when it’s appropriate, given the safety threats to the (state) Capitol.” 

(Translation: I have big plans for your wallet and I’m not going to tell you what they are.  And I thank the Trumpsters for giving me the excuse.)

Given peaceful demonstrations over the past few days, Senate President Ron Kouchi expects no violence Wednesday, which coincides with unprecedented security around the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., for the inauguration of incoming President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris — a ceremony that already is surrounded by 25,000 National Guard soldiers, including 200 from Hawaii.

“I remain firm in my belief that we in Hawaii have found a way to express our differences, but in a way that is respectful,” Kouchi said.

(Translation: I know this is all a ruse and I admit it but I’m getting away with it anyway.)

Still, given additional variables including COVID- 19 and an uncertain economic picture, Kouchi said the state Capitol will be the site of “an opening day that none of us have ever experienced.”

Even before concerns grew about violence across every state’s capital following the Jan. 6 assault and temporary takeover in Washington, D.C., Hawaii legislators already were planning to restrict access to the state Capitol because of the ongoing spread of COVID-19 — while beefing up technology to allow hearings to be held over public-access television and the internet while still allowing the public to provide testimony in real time.

“We learned over the past six months not to make assumptions about federal assistance,” Saiki said. “Even with the CARES Act, the rules kept changing constantly. We’ll be waiting for federal action. Until then we will not assume there will be assistance.”

“Even if we do get help from the Biden administration and the new (Democratic) majority in the Senate,” Kouchi said that “the long-term prospect is for six years of economic recovery.”

During weeks of legislative hearings leading up to Wednesday’s official start of the new session, lawmakers have repeatedly expressed hope that the current economic crisis will result in a different look for state government that could include a slimmer workforce, telecommuting and a more streamlined approach.

“My feeling is that if we are not able to reform government during a pandemic, then we will never reform government,” Saiki said. “This is an opportunity for us to make some changes that will make government more effective for the people.”

(Translation: We will never reform government—but we will raise your taxes.)

Flashback: Suspension Of Hawaii’s Open Government Laws is More Extreme Than Other States 

read … Opening day of Hawaii legislative session to be void of typical festivities

Republican Priorities for 2021 Legislature

CB: … House Minority Leader Gene Ward said Hawaii’s four Republican representatives will focus this session on four areas in 2021, including pandemic response, the economy, aid to businesses and the state budget hole.

Ward hopes that furloughs and most of the layoffs of state workers can be delayed, but wants the state government to get down “to what’s the core of our service,” noting the hundreds of millions of dollars of new debt the state has taken on in addition to an estimated $26 billion in unfunded liabilities for future retirement benefits.

Ward also said he’d like to see small businesses that have been hard hit by the recession given a general excise tax holiday. Nearly a quarter of all local businesses have closed since the pandemic began, according to a survey from the state Department of Business Economic Development and Tourism.

“For those that have their nose right down in the water, if we can push them to safety with a brief extension of the GET, we should do that,” Ward said. …

read … The Battered State Budget Will Dominate The Next Hawaii Legislature

Insiders’ 5 point plan for economy

SoR: … Experts on Hawaii’s economy discussed their ideas for a five point plan to help Hawaii’s economy recover and how the vaccine rollout is vital in helping reopen the economy. Ray Vara, president and CEO of Hawaii Pacific Health, Peter Ho, chairman and CEO of Bank of Hawaii and Dr. Mark Mugiishi, president and CEO of the Hawaii Medical Service Association (HMSA), discussed these topics at a panel on the economy at the Hawaii State of Reform Virtual Health Policy conference Thursday. …

The first point in the plan was that public health and economic health are intertwined. Ray Vara said that it is “virtually impossible” to reopen the economy without a strong public health system. Making sure the vaccine rollout is efficient and is able to vaccinate people in a timely manner….

The second point was that the state and stakeholders need to consider financial capital. They need to make sure to make sure any short term steps will not hamper economic growth long term….

The third point raised by the experts was the need to consider the human capital in the recovery efforts. Hawaii needs to be able to invest in the people in their community, said Vara. By leveraging education, through workforce training or higher education, people are more likely to stay in Hawaii.

Physical capital was the fourth point raised by the panelists. …

The fifth and final point raised by the panelists is the regulatory framework. Hawaii needs to be an inviting place for people to come and bring their businesses and also to entice people to stay in the state. …

read … Experts discuss a 5 point plan to help Hawaii’s economy recover

Hawaii Lawmakers May Cut Solar Credits

CB: … In 2017, the refundable Renewable Energy Technologies Income Tax Credit cost the state $48 million, of which $39 million went to corporations, according to a 2020 report from the state Department of Taxation.

With the state facing a historic budget deficit, lawmakers may consider phasing out the tax credits.

Rep. Nicole Lowen, who chairs the House Energy and Environmental Protection Committee, supports keeping the credit but said she is unsure what support there is in the Legislature for not winding down the incentive….

read … Hawaii Lawmakers May Cut Solar Credits

Lawmakers Still Hope To Pass Climate Legislation in 2021

HPR: … Climate advocates want this year to be different. North Kona Representative Nicole Lowen, who chairs the House Committee on Energy and Environmental Protection, says climate hawks are planning to introduce a variety of bills related to reducing emissions.

“We’re looking at a number of bills that set goals for the transition of the transportation sector to electric vehicles or vehicles powered by renewable sources,” Lowen told HPR.

Measures to expand electric vehicle charging infrastructure and make new buildings more energy efficient will also be introduced.

Climate change adaptation will also be on the agenda. New environmental conditions and more frequent severe weather events are expected to impact coastal areas over the coming decades.

South Maui representative Tina Wildberger wants to revamp building codes and require all new construction be able to withstand a Category 4 Hurricane.

Wildberger also wants to create a new state agency to manage shoreline erosion. She argues the Department of Land and Natural Resources, which currently has jurisdiction over Hawaii’s coastlines, has turned a blind eye to seawall construction that over time has destroyed local beaches.

“That’s something we need to move away from,” Wildberger said.

“Our sea level is rising and what are going to do with these shoreline properties? We’ve got to stop shoreline hardening or we are not going to have any beaches left for future generations.”

With the state facing a multi-billion dollar budget shortfall, any measure that requires new spending or tax incentives will face an uphill battle.

One climate-friendly proposal that may gain new support this year is a tax on carbon emissions

Wildberger and  several other lawmakers proposed different versions of a carbon tax last year, although none of the bills ultimately passed. The idea has broad support from economists in general as one of the easiest ways to reduce carbon.

“It’s going to be all about bringing money in, so this is a great year for carbon tax,” Wildberger predicted.

“Anything that will bring money into the state coffers will be popular.”

Representative Lowen told HPR that she plans to introduce a carbon tax proposal this year….

read … Lawmakers Still Hope To Pass Climate Legislation in 2021

Some Want Permanent Security Barriers At Capitol, But At What Cost?

CB: … In 2019, Lee failed to pass similar legislation asking for more security at the Capitol.

He expects his measure will pass this year because of recent violent events in public buildings including a state sheriff allegedly killing a homeless man in the Capitol rotunda in 2019….

Rep. Gene Ward says he will be introducing his own bill this session for more security after he tried unsuccessfully in 2016 and 2018 to gain approval for bills to create a security master plan for the Capitol.

Ward called what is happening nationally “a wake-up call.” He says that Hawaii is way behind what other states already have done to protect their capitols….

read … Some Want Permanent Security Barriers At Capitol, But At What Cost?

Federal Prosecutors ask that Maui Hate Attack defendants be held without bail

MN: … The prosecution is asking to have two men held without bail after they were charged with a hate crime for what was described as a racially motivated attack on a white man who was trying to move into the defendants’ Native Hawaiian neighborhood in Kahakuloa….

Kaulana Alo Kaonohi and Levi Aki Jr., both 31, were arrested Friday morning after being indicted last month by a federal grand jury, records show.

Both were being held Monday at the Federal Detention Center in Honolulu, pending their arraignments by telephone today before Magistrate Judge Wes Reber Porter in U.S. District Court in Honolulu.

Both Alo Kaonohi and Aki were placed on four years’ probation when they were sentenced in 2019 in 2nd Circuit Court in connection with the attack on Christopher Kunzelman on Feb. 13, 2014. Alo Kaonohi had pleaded no contest to first-degree assault, while Aki had pleaded no contest to first-degree terroristic threatening….

In July 2014, three days after police tried to serve an arrest warrant on Alo Kaonohi for the February attack, he “committed a second unprovoked attack on a white-skinned person, this time at the Steel Horse Saloon” on Lower Main Street in Wailuku… 

HNN: Maui men accused in racially-motivated attack plead not guilty

read … Doing the job the State won't do

100 Day plan for prosecutor’s office

SA: … In November, voters approved an amendment to the City Charter that limits the city prosecutor’s term to two consecutive four-year periods — a needed move to refresh leadership.

Under Alm’s leadership plan, the office intends to aggressively tackle certain types of crime, such as child sex trafficking, domestic violence and white-collar crime. For other lesser types, the retired U.S. attorney and Circuit Court judge rightly pointed out, seeking rehabilitation instead of incarceration might make more sense.

Excluding offenders who are truly violent, dangerous or who “won’t stop stealing,” Alm estimates that up to 60% of defendants should be placed on probation or secure a deferral to options such as drug court, mental health court or home probation….

Alm has put this strategy to work through Project HOPE (Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation with Enforcement), an innovation he introduced while serving on Hawaii’s Circuit Court bench. It aims to reduce crime and drug use by giving offenders the opportunity to avoid prison as long as certain court-mandated conditions are met.

The HOPE program has its critics, and not all of its participants stay out of trouble. Still, the probation option often stands as a better bet for lasting rehabilitative gains while easing overcrowding in jails. Further, for many offenders and their families, the loss of employment and stigma tied to a prison sentence can be a fast track to lasting poverty; an improved system stressing rehabilitation focuses on re-entry into society to lessen recidivism….

read … Rebuilding trust in prosecutor’s office

University of Hawaii and Department of Education design budget cuts to boost case for Tax Hikes

SA: … Millions of dollars in budget cuts to the state Department of Education and University of Hawaii system are expected to be finalized Thursday during separate board meetings for both departments….

read … University of Hawaii and Department of Education brace for budget cuts

Big Isle pediatricians to DOE: ‘Open our schools’

HTH: … In a letter sent to Superintendent Christina Kishimoto and local complex area superintendents, six East Hawaii pediatricians — Lauren Stuart, Miki Cain, Darrett Choi, Joseph D’Angelo, Ty DeSilva and Diana Lindreoth — have recommended keiki return to full-time, in-person learning without delay.

Although closing schools to in-person instruction was originally thought necessary to protect the health and safety of the community, the physicians say it’s now clear that the move has had negative impacts on students and their families.

“Depression, suicide attempts … child abuse and domestic violence have skyrocketed dramatically nationwide and on the islands,” the letter reads. “Despite the best efforts of our teachers and aids, online learning cannot adequately provide personalized attention, equal learning opportunities, nutrition or the social and emotional benefits of attending school in person.”

In places where primary and secondary schools have opened on the mainland, contracting COVID-19 has been shown to be more likely in the community than in schools, the doctors say….

“I’ve been watching the consequences of these kids being at home the last 10 months,” she said.

With distance learning, keiki are spending “an inordinate amount of time in front of their screens,” Stuart said, and doctors are seeing behavioral issues such as anxiety, depression and anger emerge.

“They’re miserable, parents are miserable,” she said. “I know a lot more fourth-grade math than I wanted to know. … I don’t know how every school functions, but most parents and kids report approximately one hour a day of actual instruction from a teacher. The rest of the time is watching videos or answering questions online.”….

HTH: Why more kids aren’t back at school; Despite low COVID case counts, HSTA BS Machine ensures numerous hurdles remain

MN: Principals sad to see students miss out on ‘milestone’ events

read … Big Isle pediatricians to DOE: ‘Open our schools’

Oahu’s first mass vaccination site launches

HNN: … About 600 people are scheduled to receive the shots on Monday, but officials anticipate vaccinating 1,500 a day Tuesday through Saturday.

And they’re hoping that in the coming weeks, 3,000 or 4,000 people will be able to get vaccinated every single day….

About 12,800 people have scheduled appointments, according to Hawaii Pacific Health.

People are being encouraged to get dropped off or park at Waterfront Plaza and Aloha Tower Market Place — not at Pier 2. Parking at Pier 2 is being reserved for people with limited mobility….

read … Oahu’s first mass vaccination site launches

New Wave Of Federal Stimulus Money Is Hitting Hawaii—Does Anybody Need it?

CB: … Take the law firm of McCorriston Miller Mukai MacKinnon. The firm landed $1 million to $2 million in April through a loan administered by Bank of Hawaii, the SBA reported.

That was important then, says Rick Budar, the firm’s managing director. Courts were closed, and other activities, like depositions and other matters were at a standstill. Deal making in areas like real estate had also slowed down, he said, which meant less work for transactional lawyers.

And with the lawyers not working, support staff also were sitting around.

“In April we were all basically in a state of shock about what was going to happen next,” he said.

In all, 61 law firms got PPP loans the first time around, including other big names like 117-employee Cades Schutte and 94-employee Carlsmith Ball, which each got $1 million to $2 million.

Although the economy isn’t back to normal, it has turned around enough that McCorriston at least probably won’t need another round, Budar said.

“The panic really has gone away,” he said.

For other big recipients, things aren’t as clear. Few industries have been hit harder than restaurants. In Hawaii, the industry shed more than 40,000 jobs when the pandemic hit, as employment dropped to about 30,300 in April from 71,500 in February, according to the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization database of federal indicators….

Opening Hawaii to tourists has helped the industry recover some. As of November, the latest month available, the industry had regained some 16,000 jobs.

But the outlook is still grim. According to Sherry Menor-McNamara, president and chief executive of the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii, 65% of the state’s restaurants don’t expect to survive another six months. And it’s not just restaurants that cater to tourists that are hurting.

One of the largest Hawaii recipients of PPP money the first time around was FCH Enterprises, owner of Zippy’s restaurants. The 1,500-employee chain got the maximum $10 million during the first phase, but the company still had to lay off about 25% of its workforce, said Kevin Yim, vice president of marketing and communications.

Asked last week whether Zippy’s would seek more PPP money, Yim said the company hadn’t decided….

read … New Wave Of Federal Stimulus Money Is Hitting Hawaii

Miske wins increased access to defense lawyers, computerized case files

ILind: … Mansfield’s order gave Miske’s legal team virtually everything they sought….

In addition, the order specifically requires the detention center and Bureau of Prisons to allow contact visits “at all reasonable hours” between Miske and members of his defense team, and confidential phone calls “at all reasonable hours” between Miske and the “learned counsel” ….

Finally, detention center and BOP officials are ordered to provide Miske a portable hard drive containing the digital files that are part of his defense, including the evidence against him, and up to eight hours daily of access to one of the Federal Detention Center’s computers that are shared by other detainees. Alternatively, they can provide Miske access to a computer without internet capability for up to eight hours a day….

Trial in the case is currently scheduled for September 2021….

read … Miske wins increased access to defense lawyers, computerized case files

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