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Monday, June 1, 2009
June 1, 2009 News Read
By Andrew Walden @ 6:43 AM :: 8182 Views :: Hawaii County News, Agriculture, Maui County News, Honolulu County News, Democratic Party, Hawaii State Government, Republican Party, National News, Development

Akaka Bill still going nowhere

The latest filing of the legislation came in early May.  But it hasn't been scheduled for committee hearings yet as Congress deals with the economic meltdown, a Supreme Court nomination, climate change legislation, health care reform and other priorities.

The so-called Akaka Bill, named after Hawaii Sen. Daniel Akaka, was first introduced in Congress in 2000 and brought up every session since.

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State workers on edge on eve of Governor's budget announcement

"you can't just cut, cut, cut and expect people to start feeling better," said Randy Perreira, the head of HGEA, the union that represents state workers.

Perreira says there are other ways to reduce the deficit.

"We're going to have to look at additional revenue. We long advocated to raise the general excise tax in the short or long term," he said.  (THAT will make HGEA 'feel better'.)

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More cuts to schools feared after bleaker revenue forecast

"It ($185 million) has to come from somewhere. And that's not to say it's all coming from the DOE. ... We're not exactly sure," Pang said.

So far in the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, the state Department of Education has cut or restricted its spending by some $40 million, including cuts to non-school hour programs, the A-Plus after-school program and vacant positions across the public school system. Superintendent Patricia Hamamoto has instituted spending restrictions on interisland travel, overtime and workshop attendance.

Education officials are suggesting the governor tap the state's Rainy Day fund or the Hurricane Relief fund to minimize impact on the public schools. The governor also has furloughs of state workers as a possible option, they say.

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Hawaii's tax outlook dims in updated forecast

The council predicted revenues would decline 9 percent in the fiscal year that ends in June, down from the 5 percent drop estimated in March. The change leaves the Lingle administration with a $185 million budget gap to close over the next month.

The council projected zero revenue growth for fiscal year 2010, down from 0.5 percent.

The cumulative impact of the new projection on this fiscal year and the two-year budget for fiscal years 2010 and 2011 is about a $611 million decline in anticipated tax revenue.

Overall, since last year, the council's forecasts have been off by $2.7 billion. Economists on the council acknowledged yesterday they had to correct for errors in previous forecasts by substantially lowering their estimate. Actual revenue collections for the first 10 months of the fiscal year were off by 6.8 percent.

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Hotels continue occupancy drop

Hospitality Advisors LLC called it "another dismal month" as occupancy fell 5.1 percentage points to 64.1 percent. It was the lowest occupancy rate for April since the survey began in 1987.

"We've been in this record low territory for the last three months," said Hospitality Advisors President and CEO Joseph Toy.

The hotel industry avoided even lower occupancy rates by discounting rooms and offering added amenities. The average daily room rate dropped by 9.3 percent to $179.09 in April.

The decrease in occupancy and decline in room rates resulted in a 16.1 percent drop to $114.78 in revenue per available room, a key indicator of hotel profitability.

Hospitality Advisors' Toy predicted tourism won't rebound until the middle of next year. He added, "We may see the bottom this year."

SB: No fast hotel recovery seen

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SB: More thought needed in 'saving' the environment (not pseudo-environmentalists)

In the environmental assessment course I developed and taught at the University of Hawaii in Hilo, I pointed out the problem of "single issue environmentalists" and of doing a fair environmental assessment. A reasonable environmental assessment requires consideration of the overall environmental impact and not just the narrow concern of one group.

Examples abound: Surfers on Kauai yelling about the new ferry, which had no effect on surf sites; enduring lengthy delays for minor concerns on the Saddle Road, dragging it out while people died on the most dangerous road in the state; pressure from the EPA resulting in drilling a well requiring imported oil and increasing emissions rather than continuing a spring source for water on the Big Island, etc. Unfortunately, politicians yield easily to some of these outspoken, pseudo-environmentalists, with adverse results.

Especially, we need genuine environmentalists, we need to identify them separately from the "CAVE" people (Citizens Against Virtually Everything), and we need to urge our legislators to call on them and listen to them. The local media often has a reporter who realizes this and may know whom to call for valid information. The wire services often do not.

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EXAMPLE #1--Global warming is killing Hawaii Honeycreeper

Global warming threatens to push endangered native Hawaiian honeycreepers closer to extinction unless the likely resulting increase in mosquitos that carry avian malaria and the pox virus is curtailed, federal scientists warn. 

Honeycreepers have been able to survive by living at elevations higher than 4,000 feet where the temperature is cold enough to reduce mosquito populations.

But with a projected 3.6-degree increase sometime after 2050, about 60 to 96 percent of high-elevation refuges will disappear, said Carter Atkinson, a research microbiologist with the U.S. Geological Survey.  (Good thing Global Cooling began in 1998) 

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EXAMPLE #2--Moloka'i's reef is choking to death

(They've destroyed almost every private enterprise on Molokai and still blame humans for erosion.  Question:  Why aren't the mountains on Molokai 10,000 feet tall?)

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Elective office eluded Windward lawyer

Honolulu attorney and indefatigable political candidate Tom Pico Jr. has died at age 65, about a month after his bid for a City Council seat.

"Tom Pico was a tireless crusader for lower taxes and fiscal responsibility," Hawaii Republican Party Chairman Jonah Ka'auwai said. "His strong conservative values and commonsense approach to complex issues will be sorely missed. Our hearts and prayers go out to his family at this difficult time."

Pico died May 19 at Castle Medical Center.

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Hawaii County government: Inside deals, incompetence, intent or arrogance?

This week we disclosed that the county, through "an error" unbeknownst to anyone in the Finance Department -- until queried by West Hawaii Today -- was charging a Hilo landowner incorrectly for real property taxes.
No big deal, you might say. And ostensibly it isn't -- until you begin to paint by number and the Big Picture develops.

Keep in perspective this comes from an agency where such access is granted to the Planning Department, which has hired felons, killers and child molesters, all of whom I'm certain have more moral fiber than journalists.
There is a pattern unmistakably developing. While not given easily to conspiracy theories, the picture is growing clearer. We are seeing a pattern of activity within the county that is illegal (procurement violations, potential bid rigging in Public Works), partial (property leases beyond market rates to Hilo politicians who are also exempted from all but minimum real property taxes and now "errors" in tax assessments for county officials) and unethical (attempting to strip funding from a voter-mandated auditor just as she planned to hire an outside consultant to conduct an audit into possible waste, fraud and abuse in government contracts).
Yes, something is rotten in county government.
No wonder they wanted intentionally to obfuscate our ability to glean those tax records for continued malfeasance and "erroneous" omissions that oddly fall so favorably to those with inside political ties. It's not hiding, just hindering -- and see why.

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Perpetual money machines we're not

Although lawmakers proclaim that they care about the downtrodden and oppressed, they hardly blink when it comes to stepping on the downtrodden and oppressed to ask for yet another tax dollar. Looking back on simpler times in the years following statehood, a major across-the-board tax increase was adopted in order to provide the funds to build the infrastructure that the new state needed to accommodate a changing economy and a growing population.

However, in those early years, lawmakers found ways to tackle those economic downturns without resorting to increases in taxes and fees. They, instead, spent time poring over the operations of state government and looking at the delicate balance between what state and county governments needed to do to protect the health, safety and welfare of the community.

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Spitting in the eye of mainstream education

Reporting from Oakland -- Not many schools in California recruit teachers with language like this: "We are looking for hard working people who believe in free market capitalism. . . . Multicultural specialists, ultra liberal zealots and college-tainted oppression liberators need not apply."
That, it turns out, is just the beginning of the ways in which
American Indian Public Charter and its two sibling schools spit in the eye of mainstream education. These small, no-frills, independent public schools in the hardscrabble flats of Oakland sometimes seem like creations of television's "Colbert Report." They mock liberal orthodoxy with such zeal that it can seem like a parody.

School administrators take pride in their record of frequently firing teachers they consider to be underperforming. Unions are embraced with the same warmth accorded "self-esteem experts, panhandlers, drug dealers and those snapping turtles who refuse to put forth their best effort," to quote the school's website.

Not surprisingly, many Bay Area liberals have a hard time embracing an educational philosophy that proudly proclaims that it "does not preach or subscribe to the demagoguery of tolerance."

It would be easy to dismiss American Indian as one of the nuttier offshoots of the fast-growing charter school movement, which allows schools to receive public funding but operate outside of day-to-day district oversight. But the schools command attention for one very simple reason: By standard measures, they are among the very best in California.
The Academic Performance Index, the central measuring tool for California schools, rates schools on a scale from zero to 1,000, based on standardized test scores. The state target is an API of 800. The statewide average for middle and high schools is below 750. For schools with mostly low-income students, it is around 650.
The oldest of the American Indian schools, the middle school known simply as American Indian Public Charter School, has an API of 967. Its two siblings -- American Indian Public Charter School II (also a middle school) and American Indian Public High School -- are not far behind.

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Police chief's low salary will likely limit applicants, especially mainlanders

as the Honolulu Police Commission searches for a new police chief, it appears the relatively low pay for the city's top law enforcement job will likely limit applications, especially from large mainland cities.

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Futuristic aircraft may land in Hawaii

Latest scheme: High-speed blimp with cargo, passenger capabilities.  (Air ferry?)

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