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February 14, 2021 News Read
By Andrew Walden @ 5:51 PM :: 2617 Views

Taxes: More 'Creative' Thought at Our Legislature

Hawaii Family Forum Legislative Week in Review

Which Hawaii towns borrow too much to buy cars?

Does state government work for the public or for itself?

Shapiro: … A year into the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s a striking disparity between the way the state cares for citizens struggling in the private sector and how it takes care of its own workers.

While disgracefully lacking urgency in aiding those devastated by unemployment and other economic hardship, the Ige administration and Legislature have worked tirelessly to spare public workers ill effects from Hawaii’s collapsed economy.

The Legislature’s first major response to the pandemic, as private-sector unemployment surged past 100,000, was a special session to rearrange state finances to protect public workers from layoffs and furloughs….

As a $1.4 billion budget deficit loomed, lawmakers in another session voted $150 million in pay raises for public employees.

Gov. David Ige has pushed back furloughs and layoffs of state employees by borrowing $750 million from the federal government the state can’t afford to repay and withholding federal aid to desperate citizens and businesses in the hope Congress would change the law so states could use the money for their own operations — i.e., paying public workers.

With the Capitol locked up like a fortress and schools and other state offices closed to keep COVID out, the state has been generous in designating its sheltered employees essential workers so they can get vaccinated ahead of seniors and the medically infirm.

We’ve seen little such urgency in state efforts on behalf of those toiling in the private sector.

A year after the shameful failure of the state unemployment office as tens of thousands lost their income, payments are still often late, phone lines and online portals remain clogged and offices are closed to applicants needing personal attention….

Despite U.S. Centers for Disease Control guidance that schools can safely reopen with proper protocols, Hawaii public schools have been slow to resume on-site learning as students fall far behind.

Resistance comes from teachers, who, like unemployment office workers, want the perks of essential front-line workers without actually reporting to the front line….

Related:

read … Does state government work for the public or for itself?

Replace Aloha Stadium? “It has never been in our budget”

HNN: … UH games are moving to Manoa and there were plans to build a new Aloha Stadium, but Gov. David Ige says the state may now be considering other options.

“It has never been in our budget,” the governor said, earlier this week.

“It’s a very expensive item. When we are looking at public schools, healthcare facilities, the University of Hawaii and other kinds of core infrastructure in our community it’s hard to say that we want to spend $350 million or so on replacement for the stadium.” …

(Making it up as he goes along,) Stadium Manager Scott Chan said they don’t want to allow fans back in the stands until an assessment report is completed on the stadium, which would cost about $600,000.

(Key word: “Want”.  There is NOTHING wrong with Aloha Stadium.)

“Rust never sleeps, without the work being done I would be very concerned if we allowed people back in without doing the very least that needs to be done in making sure it’s a safe environment,” said Chan.

Wakai said there is a bill moving through the House and the Senate that would put together a framework for the development of a new Aloha Stadium….

Ige said they are looking at options to prolong the life of the stadium if they are unable to come up with the necessary funds to build a new facility.

In addition, they are committed to helping UH find a place to play for the upcoming season.

(Idea: UH can play at Aloha Stadium next season.) 

Dec 19, 2020: Surrrprise! Aloha Stadium not quite shut down, will ‘entertain’ new events with added expenses

read … Replace Aloha Stadium? The governor is now lukewarm on the idea

Selling the Next Boondoggle: Aloha Stadium Development Interests try to Scare Legislators

Borreca: … it is an open question if we have either the will or plans to build a new stadium to replace the old closed (NOT!) and condemned (NOT!) one. It is fairly clear we don’t have the leadership….

(Developers are panicking.  They need to scare legislators to get bills passed.)

read … New stadium at mercy of chaotic play-calling between governor, legislators, authority, University of Hawaii

Time to consider ‘Plan C’ for Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation?

SA: … In 2008, this project was $4.8 billion and was projected to be completed in 10 years. By most measures at the time, this was a good project, worthy of support. However, I think it is fair to ask on behalf of the citizens and voters if, at more than $11 billion and another 15 years, does this project still make sense? Despite already spending far more than $4.8 billion, HART would need billions more and another 15 years to reach Ala Moana Center. This would be fiscally challenging even in the best of times.

The city and state are currently facing unprecedented fiscal challenges unrelated to rail. Much of this can be traced to the COVID-19 pandemic, but underlying problems go much deeper.

Without taking 2020 into account, a nonpartisan think tank, Truth in Accounting, described Honolulu’s financial situation as the third worst in the nation, listing the difference between its assets and liabilities as $3.5 billion, or $29,600 per taxpayer. If the $4 billion in rail overruns are added, the per-taxpayer debt swells to $63,400. And, again, this is without considering financial implications of the pandemic. HART will be looking for support from the Legislature and governor, who themselves are dealing with significant shortfalls in revenue.

This is a good time to reassess rail. The existing guideway construction contract ends at Middle Street, and HART has not yet designed or contracted for any guideway beyond Middle Street. Based on recent experience, there is no reason to believe that we will not encounter problems in relocating utilities such as those on Dillingham Boulevard as we move toward Ala Moana Center.

Some contend that the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) would demand a return of federal money if rail were to stop short of Ala Moana Center. However, there is reason to believe that the FTA would be open to working out a revision to the existing contract….

read … Time to consider ‘Plan C’ for Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation?

Sharing emergency powers: HB103 would temper governor’s power

HTH: … The prolonged coronavirus pandemic has state lawmakers rethinking emergency powers it granted the governor in a revamp of state law not that long ago.

A bill moving through the state House would try to balance the almost unilateral power granted the executive branch — governor and island mayors — during declared emergencies to allow legislative input into the duration and specific powers wielded.

House Bill 103, tempering some of the governor’s power, cleared its second committee Thursday on a unanimous vote with no amendments. It now goes to the Finance Committee, its last stop. A similar bill in the Senate has yet to gain traction.

The bill requires that all emergency actions taken not be in violation of the state constitution, that no suspension of law be longer or broader than necessary and that a rational basis for the suspension be articulated in the emergency declaration….

Current law “gave the governor extraordinarily muscular powers,” said attorney Robert Thomas of Pacific Legal Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to protecting property rights and individual liberties, in a Friday webinar sponsored by the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii. “In this statute, the Legislature delegated its powers.”

Rewriting law to try to get some of those checks and balances back is easier than trying to prevail in court over emergency proclamations, said Malia Hill, a Grassroot Institute attorney. Courts tend to grant great deference to the executive branch during emergencies, and cases are likely to drag on for years, she said.

“The real concern is the governor acting as a super legislator,” she said. “House Bill 103 is the start of something good. … It’s generally a step in the right direction.”

CB: Hawaii Lawmakers Are Considering Clamping Down On Gov’s Emergency Powers

Feb 3, 2021: How to fix Hawaii's broken emergency powers law

HB103: Text, Status

read … Sharing emergency powers: House bill would temper governor’s power

Saiki Telescope Proposal Just a Rehash of Kai Kahele’s

CB: … Greg Chun, it’s only been 10 days since House Speaker Scott Saiki announced that he wanted to change the lease arrangement regarding Mauna Kea. Can you give us an update?

Chun: We have not seen an official draft of a resolution, so we’re not clear yet on exactly what might be proposed.

However, what he’s proposing is not a new idea to us. I mean, we’ve been involved in this conversation for at least a couple of years. And as you may recall, Sen. Kai Kahele a couple of years ago also attempted to propose such a shift. So the concept, the conversation is not new. And our position is we remain open to working with the state on any proposal that supports astronomy and advances the broader interests of the state.

Having said that, I do believe — we do believe — that the underlying question still needs to be addressed. What is the objective of such a change in governance structure? I was asked that this morning by members of the Board of Land and Natural Resources. They asked me, what do I see as a future of the governance for Mauna Kea? And my reply was, it depends on what our objectives are. Because, you know, the structure should reflect and support what the state’s broader objectives are.

And if it’s to support astronomy and UH’s role in astronomy and the role of astronomy in a larger knowledge-based economy for the state, then I would make the argument that UH is the proper entity to continue managing the mauna.

But if the objective is something else, if it’s to address the unresolved Native Hawaiian land claim or something like that, then of course the structure would look different. It’s really the underlying issues that we think need to be addressed, and that’s a conversation that is not UH’s kuleana itself. It’s a broader conversation that has to involve the whole state, quite frankly.

Chun: It’s certainly a sentiment I personally hear more in the community. I think for some people, not everybody, for some people, it’s just about TMT. For other people it’s much larger. It’s about development on the mauna. So I certainly hear more of that in the circles that I walk in and work in the community.

That would be devastating to the state, not just the university. I think astronomy represents the kind of industry that we need to be moving towards. And I do believe that there’s a way that we can find a balance for it to exist on Mauna Kea. But because I hear it more often, it is a more of a concern for me.

Lassner: You ask if it’s conceivable. So the short story is the master lease runs through 2033 and all of the observatories have subleases from us as the master leaseholder that run through 2033.

So if there is no master lease to UH or a master lease is given to an entity that is not committed to astronomy, then that entity could easily say no observatories have any subleases. And that’s the risk that we really wanted to allude to in that statement.

Most of the observatories are owned by countries or major institutions, the Smithsonian, NASA, those kinds of entities. They look for the long term at how they will conduct astronomy and where they will conduct astronomy. And if they believe there is no future for astronomy on Mauna Kea, they start investing somewhere else that is more welcoming.….

read … Interview: UH President David Lassner

HB1319: Life of the Land Opposes Carbon Taxes

IM: … The economic solution of carbon taxing has failed the real-world test.

Food & Water Watch reported, “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 asserted, “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.” 

The Hawai`i Legislature is considering House Bill 1319 that would tax carbon use and refund about 60% of it to those making less than $75,000 per year. The general fund would get the other 40%.

The bill favors urban residents who can walk, ride bicycles, and who have public transit options. The bill would have the greatest impact on rural communities forced to drive across the island to work.

A different carbon tax bill that was supported by progressives proposed returning 100% of the funds raised to residents and dealing with the regressive nature of taxation, failed to get a hearing….

HB1319: Text, Status

read … Life of the Land Opposes Carbon Taxes

Hawaii setting up "Health Pass" system to verify a person's COVID-19 test results, vaccinations

KITV: … The state is setting up a "Health Pass" system that uses technology to verify your negative COVID-19 test results and vaccination doses, so you can travel and keep your information private.

Hawaii is doing a pilot program with a company called "CLEAR" and is in talks with nonprofit "The Commons Project Foundation." With many countries now requiring negative COVID-19 results to enter, their smartphone apps help airlines maintain safety protocols and limit person-to-person contact. …

read … Hawaii setting up "Health Pass" system to verify a person's COVID-19 test results, vaccinations

Hospitals resist Killing Patients on Site so Suicide Squad Wants Nurses to do it

HTH: … The East Hawaii Region of the Hawaii Health Systems Corp., which includes Hilo Medical Center, will not participate in OCOCA-related services on its premises, according to a new policy implemented this month….

According to the policy, providers won’t be censured, disciplined, lose privileges or face any penalty for participating in OCOCA outside of an East Hawaii Region facility.

Approved by the HMC executive management team this month, the policy applies to all East Hawaii critical access hospitals, long-term care facilities, clinics and the Hilo hospital….

Kona Community Hospital, however, which is part of the HHSC West Hawaii Region, is in the final stages of adopting a position of “engaged neutrality,” spokeswoman Judy Donovan said.

“KCH supports our patients and their choices regarding the law,” she said. “We will provide appropriate educational resources that allow a patient to make informed end-of-life decisions. However, the hospital does not participate in OCOCA by way of allowing the administration of end-of-life medications on the KCH campus.”

According to Donovan, when a patient requests life-ending medication under the law, KCH providers will participate by offering appropriate resources or support and performing duties that are considered standard care for end-of-life patients….

read … Hospitals resist Our Care, Our Choice Act

Mayor’s financial disclosure is MIA

ILind: … Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi’s financial disclosure, the first due since he took office at the beginning of the year, is not among the 54 disclosure statements filed by elected and appointed officials, and available online for public inspection on the city clerk’s website.

Newly elected or appointed city officials are required by law to file their initial disclosures within 20 working days of taking the oath of office. With the Martin Luther King holiday in January, that deadline for filing was February 1.

The 54 disclosures currently available online for public review include those of council members, as well as the appointed directors and deputies in Blangiardi’s administration. The list is in alphabetical order, starting with Sarah-Jane Allen, appointed director of the Department of Community Services, and continuing alphabetically down to Wesley Yokoyama, director of the Department of Environmental Services.

Blangiardi’s name is conspicuously absent from the list of those with financial disclosures on file. Also missing are newly elected council members Radiant Cordero and Augie Tulba.

The disclosures of other council members are on file, including those filed as late as just hours before the February 1 deadline.

The mayor did file a financial disclosure as a candidate for mayor on June 8, 2020, but that does not fulfill the requirement that he submit a new disclosure statement covering all of 2020 once he was sworn in and became mayor….

read … Mayor’s financial disclosure is MIA

Jobless workers still seeking answers

TGI: … on Feb. 11, Perreira-Estaquio announced her department had completed system updates to handle the delayed extension of the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation Program this week, as reported by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

Richard Foree of Kilauea was furloughed from The Dolphin Restaurant in Hanalei during the pandemic, and was receiving unemployment benefits until they were exhausted in December….

“I’m hoping to get back to work this summer,” Foree said. “But I may not even be back to work then. I am just trying to figure out like everyone else. We’ve been waiting since mid-December. It’s been about seven or eight weeks now.”

Foree is one of several Kaua‘i residents who read the AP article and is unsure when he would be receiving the extended benefits.

“What’s going on?” asked Foree. “If we know it’s two months because when in that article they said the system is so antiquated. I think they’re trying to find people that know that code. They got to go slowly not to crash the whole thing. And he said in the way she wrote, she says something somewhat vague, but that it’s going to be, I think, a couple or several more months.

“And that was shocking. I mean, if they know a month ago it’s going to be four months or something working on it, then put something out on their website that it’s going to take this much time. So if you don’t receive anything, don’t worry. But everybody worries because they don’t even provide that information,” said Foree.

Daiva Friedrich of Hanapepe said she and her husband also waited for a period of time in between March and December of last year.

“Unable to contact them by telephone or email, offices closed,” Friedrich said. “Unable to receive benefits for at least eight weeks when applied in March. Unable to receive extension (benefits) for six weeks since December — my husband is still waiting. Employers confirmed sending in the required forms every week with my name on it as an employee. When I emailed UI asking to confirm they are receiving the form there was no reply and thus no answer as to why benefits were not deposited.”….

SA: Kokua Line: State answers questions about long-awaited jobless aid

read … Jobless workers still seeking answers

Years of Lawyering Begin as Counties, LUC Begin Forcing Land into IAL

SA: … Now the involuntary piece of the 16-year-old Important Agricultural Lands law is on the verge of being implemented.

The law directed county government officials to identify land appropriate for preservation under criteria that include soil quality, water supply and use.

The City and County of Honolulu was the first to complete its part of the process, and in 2019 recommended that 41,407 acres on Oahu be protected.

Oahu covers 386,188 acres, of which about 128,000 are classified as agricultural, including 12,300 acres voluntarily protected by private landowners.

The land up for protection now is made up of 1,781 parcels with about as many owners, and is spread around the island, with the biggest concentrations in Kunia, Wahiawa, Mililani, Haleiwa, Waialua, the Waianae Coast, Waimanalo and from Kahaluu to Kahuku.

The parcels were selected in a process that included an analysis of suitable lands, community and focus group meetings, notification to the roughly 1,800 landowners, a formal comment period, City Council hearings and Council approval.

The LUC may approve, modify or reject the city’s plan, which was submitted to the commission in September.

However, this pivotal step may be a shaky one.

“We’re trying to figure our way through this,” Daniel Orodenker, the LUC’s executive director, told commission members at a Thursday meeting. “To be kind, this was a poorly drafted piece of legislation.”

Some LUC members anticipate that a number of affected landowners may challenge a forthcoming decision by the commission, and questioned a state lawyer about how such challenges would be handled.

Challenges could be appealed to state court or possibly handled in similar fashion to a contested-case hearing before the LUC, with the ability of affected landowners to challenge city decisions with expert witnesses under a quasi-­judicial hearing process.

Commissioner Lee Ohigashi raised a concern over the LUC spending years addressing a potentially large number of challenges….

CB: Hawaii Has A Lot Of Agricultural Land. Very Little Of It Is Used For Growing Food

read … State to rule on protecting prime farmland on Oahu

HB1205: Hijack ERS to Attack Grand Wailea Resort

CB: …Public state funds need to show how they are putting sustainable investment principles into action. They must demonstrate how they are going to support the sustainable economy — and not endanger our future through investments that are harmful and present clear economic risks.

(Idea: Lets fund this by requiring 40 yrs service to retire.)

That is why I introduced House Bill 1205 (Sen. Sharon Moriwaki introduced the Senate Companion, Senate Bill 801). The bill, currently before the Economic Development Committee in the House and the Government Operations Committee in the Senate, asks the ERS and other state-managed funds to integrate sustainable investing into their practices and processes and to report back to the community on how sustainably these assets are being managed….

(Translation: I an the god of ESG and ESG is whatever I say it is. Watch how ESG quickly devolves into Rep Wildberger’s obsession with opposing mass tourism….)

While ERS does currently submit an annual report on its ESG activities to the PRI, little information about its ESG activities is made available to members of the public — including ERS pension beneficiaries and Hawaii taxpayers.

Besides environmental concerns, the PRI principles include the “S” and the “G” in ESG. “Social care” includes issues related to worker rights and culture, as well as other social concerns, and “Governance” refers to how a corporation is managed, including ethics.

Environmental, Social And Corporate Governance On The Ground

… An example of an investment by Hawaii’s pension fund that some of my constituents contend does not meet ESG standards is a $30.5 million allocation to the Blackstone Group. The world’s largest private equity manager, New York-based Blackstone has $619 billion in assets under management. In 2019 founder and CEO Steve Schwarzman, who has an estimated net worth of $23.1 billion, took home $802 million in compensation.

A Blackstone fund in which the ERS is invested owns the Grand Wailea and Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua and is Maui’s largest private employer. The Grand Wailea is the largest customer of Maui’s Department of Water Supply.

Blackstone states that ESG factors are an important part of its investment process: “ESG principles have always been at the core of our business – we’ve spent years promoting sustainability across our portfolio, prioritizing our people, and practicing good governance.”

Yet community members have expressed grave concerns about how the Grand Wailea is operating under Blackstone.  There are questions concerning the environment, management of resources and shoreline erosion. More broadly, the private capital hotel ownership model further ties the overall Hawaiian economy to tourism, with profits largely going back to Blackstone….

(Corporate Social Responsibility = Personal power to inflict my obsessions on the world)

read … Sustainability is whatever I say it is

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