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UHERO: Hawaii Economy slows markedly. Is more in store?
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Gut And Replace Bills Repeal Rail Audit Requirements
CB: … Less than two months after a Circuit Court judge ruled that the practice of gutting bills and replacing them with entirely new content is constitutional, three bills were amended in that fashion by a state Senate committee Thursday.
That leaves the public with less than 24 hours to respond to the bills, which are scheduled to be heard Friday in the Ways and Means Committee chaired by Sen. Donavan Dela Cruz Friday morning….
The bills were amended at the request of Dela Cruz during floor session Thursday. He was granted permission to suspend Senate rules so that the three bills could be sent to his committee the next day.
Dela Cruz … replaces language in Senate Bill 656 to instead repeal audit requirements over rail. He told the Senate that he is concerned with recent federal subpoenas of the rail project.
SB 656 initially called for amending the definition of “aircraft” to include helicopters….
Earlier this month, House Finance Committee Chair Sylvia Luke gutted and replaced House Bill 118 to repeal the rail audit — a bill similar to the new version of Dela Cruz’s SB 656. It was Luke’s own bill, which in first draft required that the Senate president and House speaker be notified in writing when federal aid money comes to the state….
(Dela Cruz is) replacing Senate Bill 162, which originally called for providing taxpayers who hire an elderly person a nonrefundable tax credit. A new draft of the bill would instead raise the vehicle surcharge tax from $3 to $5 per day….
Senate Bill 166 was Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim’s $310 million request for disaster relief funds.
Dela Cruz will replace that with language, he said during the Senate session, to address 3,500 vacant positions in state government. The new bill will propose a recruitment modernization program to address competitive salaries, develop new recruitment methods and determine which state position classifications that are no longer needed.
read … Gut And Replace Resurfaces At Hawaii Legislature
Whistleblower Lawsuit: HART Purposefully Mishandled More Than 100 Change Orders, Threatened Claims Managers
CB: …A whistleblower lawsuit filed in California sheds more light on a key issue federal investigators are already probing related to Honolulu rail: the questionable handling of the project’s change orders.
Jeff Werner, a former change control claims manager with the engineering firm Stantec, is suing that company, a rail contractor, for wrongful termination. Werner alleges that Stantec fired him in October 2017 after he discovered that “mandatory change order procedures were not being followed” on the Oahu rail project.
The longtime construction-management professional worked on rail from August 2016 to June 2017. While Werner’s suit is aimed at Stantec it alleges that the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation “did not obtain or require accurate cost justifications for change orders,” violating Federal Transit Administration requirements.
During his time working on rail, Werner found that HART, which oversees the project, had “deliberately” stalled progress on more than 100 change orders, worth more than $5 million in total, the complaint states.
“HART deliberately and intentionally delayed change order processing and payments to contractors for years due to project funding issues, after changed work was completed, without accurate cost justifications, resulting in substantial additional costs due to overpayments and litigation,” it adds….
Around the same time Werner joined the project, one of his recently departed predecessors, Bart Desai, chronicled similar dysfunction surrounding HART in an Aug. 28, 2016 letter to the HART board.
Desai, who handled claims on the westside for another rail contractor, PGH Wong, also shared emails that detailed the acrimony between HART and guideway-builder Kiewit Infrastructure West. The situation had reached the point that Kiewit was considering legal action because of “recent ‘threatening’ situations (HART employees) either said or written to them in the field.”
“We need to stay professional as it’ll keep things better postured even if we move into the courts,” HART’s then deputy director for design and construction, Chris Takashige, wrote to several rail colleagues in the email.
Desai’s 2016 letter to the board was also sent to the FTA Inspector General.
read … Whistleblower Lawsuit: HART Mishandled More Than 100 Change Orders
HART Board says no to request for an independent audit of rail
KITV: …The HART Board said no Thursday to a request by a Honolulu City Councilmember for an independent audit of rail. Councilmember Heidi Tsuneyoshi introduced the resolution, believing any audit would reveal potential fraud, waste, and abuse of taxpayer money. Hawaii Authority for Rapid Transportation fears another audit would bring on more delays….
read … HART Board says no to request for an independent audit of rail
Feds Will Pry Open HART’s Secrets
SA Editorial: … state auditor Les Kondo had tried, unsuccessfully, to access the HART board’s executive-session minutes from 2014 through 2016. Disappointingly, HART, relying on advice from its city lawyers, turned over some minutes that were so ridiculously redacted that, as Kondo’s audit noted, they were “indecipherable and meaningless.”
HART this week said it would try its best to comply with the subpoena, but still hedged, saying its lawyers would guide any disclosure. The state auditor’s process would have shielded any confidential information, but even then, HART officials refused to lift the secrecy cloak. This time, the hefty hand of a federal investigation could do it for them….
read … Prying open HART’s secrets
Caldwell Proposes Massive Tax Hikes to Pay for Rail and ‘New Positions’
SA: …Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s budget plan for the coming fiscal year calls for higher tax rates for owners of resort/hotel and higher-end residential “investment” properties but leaves the tax rate for those who live in their own homes the same.
Caldwell unveiled today his $2.83 billion operating budget, which is about $223 million, or 8.6 percent, higher than the current year’s budget, according to an executive summary accompanying the plan. The new budget year begins July 1.
The budget package also calls for a refuse fee for residences and nonprofit organizations, an idea the administration has proposed and then rejected by the City Council in the past….
Continued increases in uncontrollable expenses, primarily employee fringe benefits and collective bargaining costs, were cited as one key reason for the higher budget.
“The budget also funds the cost for the planning and preparation for the opening of rail service and begins to establish a foundation to help meet future rail operating and maintenance costs,” the executive summary said….
Under the proposed tax increase, owners of hotel and resort land would pay $13.90 for every $1,000 of assessed value, $1 more than the $12.90 per $1,000 they now pay.
Owners in Tier 2 of the so-called Residential A tax classification would pay $10.50 per $1,000 of assessed value on any value higher than $1 million, up $1.50 from the current $9 per $1,000 they pay on that portion of their tax. The Residential A category is comprised of residential properties valued at more than $1 million, excluding those whose owners live on their properties and claim a homeowner exemption.
The tax rate for the standard residential classification, made up of those properties valued at up to $1 million and those valued at more than $1 million but receive homeowner exemptions, would stay at $3.50 per $1,000 of value.
Residential A owners would also pay $3.50 per $1,000 of value on the first $1 million of value.
The proposal increases would net a projected $31 million in additional property tax revenues. Property taxes are the city’s main source of revenue.
On the expenditures side, Caldwell’s budget plan proposes 29 new positions in the Honolulu Emergency Services Department, 15 additional positions in the Department of Transportation Service as it ramps up for rail operations, 31 new positions in the Department of Parks and Recreation and reactivating 50 positions in the Honolulu Police Department, 37 of them patrol officer jobs….
read … Mayor Caldwell proposes $2.8B city budget with higher taxes for hotels, investment properties
Federal authorities: Katherine Kealoha used cocaine while she was deputy city prosecutor
HNN: … In an application for a search warrant filed Thursday ― complete with text messaging strings users sent while apparently high ― authorities said Kealoha used the drug while spending time with other drug users and distributors.
An FBI agent alleges in the filing that Kealoha’s brother, Dr. Rudy Puana, told investigators about his sister’s drug use and also divulged that he had sold guns while he was addicted to drugs.
The new filings stem from the third and latest indictment against Kealoha, in which she and her brother are linked to 54 counts of drug-related and other charges as part of an alleged drug distribution ring.
read … Cocaine
Sex workers and the Honolulu Police: FBI reacts to more allegations about HPD officers
KITV: …The bureau's Honolulu division says it's dealt with victims who claimed police were among their clients -- but most cases aren't completed due to a fear of retaliation….
read … Retaliation
Gabbard Caught Filing False Financial Disclosure Reports (again)
CB: … Here’s something you might not know about U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard: She’s an advisor to a Charles Koch-funded foreign policy think tank based at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
One of the reasons that’s a surprise is because it’s nowhere to be found on her latest financial disclosure form….
Gabbard’s financial disclosure from 2017 — which is the most recent one available — shows that the congresswoman held positions within three organizations: The Sanders Institute, the Healthy Hawaii Coalition and the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum Profile in Courage Award Committee.
The congresswoman was on the advisory council in 2017.
According to the House Committee on Ethics financial disclosure guideline, members must report any positions they held with organizations, including educational institutions, regardless of whether they received compensation. The guidelines, however, do provide an exemption for honorary positions.
Civil Beat asked Gabbard’s office for an explanation as to why the congresswoman didn’t include the position on her 2017 financial disclosure, but did not receive a response.
This wouldn’t be the first time Gabbard has been caught for not filling out her forms correctly.
In January 2017, Gabbard and her husband, Abraham Williams, travelled to Lebanon and Syria as part of what she described as a secret “fact-finding” mission.
While in Syria she met with the country’s president, Bashar al-Assad, a dictator who has been accused by both the U.S. and others in the international community of using chemical weapons against his own people.
The congresswoman was harshly rebuked when she returned by both the left and the right for meeting with Assad. She also initially refused to disclose who paid for her visit.
It was later revealed that Gabbard travelled to Syria with Dennis Kucinich, a former congressman from Ohio, and two brothers, Elie and Bassam Khawam, who said they funded the trip even though it was officially sponsored by the nonprofit, AACCESS-Ohio.
The Khawams have been described in various news articles as supporters of the Assad regime.
Gabbard did not initially disclose to the House Ethics Committee details of her trip to Syria, and after the controversy became public, amended her official travel disclosures….
Like Gabbard, Kucinich is also a member of the Center for the Study of Statesmanship Council of Advisors….
read … Tulsi Gabbard’s Financial Disclosures Leave Out Ties To Koch-Funded Think Tank
LG Green’s Program—Massive Festering Homeless Tent Cities Everywhere
HNN: …Green says he wants to focus on creating temporary zones where people can get social services and medical care — a place where they won’t have to worry about getting swept.
“In some regions, people will simply not go into a building. Those individuals have to have a different solution,” said Green. “There has to be a compromise, and we will work on that compromise in the next several months.”
Green tells Hawaii News Now that negotiations with the city are currently underway to allow what are known as ‘lift zones.’ The plan would allow Honolulu police officers to set up military-style tents in neighborhood parks, where homeless people could go to sleep and access services….
Big Q: Do you think Oahu’s homelessness situation is improving?
read … Festering
Kauai Floods Exploited to Limit Tourist Numbers
KGI: … When the flood hit, the only road in and out of Haena was closed for repairs and the state Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of State Parks took the opportunity to implement plans for balancing use and preservation.
“It was a crisis that created an amazing opportunity,” said Alan Carpenter, assistant administrator for the Division of State Parks. “We managed to switch gears and borrow funds from other planned projects, which gave us the chance to implement a master plan at almost record speed.”
The project was aimed at fixing two major issues at Haena State Park: crumbling infrastructure and appearance and rising visitor numbers.
The Division of State Parks has set up a system at Haena State Park that aims to cut the number of daily visitors from 2,000 a day to 900….
(Translation: Keep out the riff-raff so high-dollar TVR renters can have Hanalei to themselves—thus enhancing the value of the TVRs.)
Meanwhile: The county is deploying new contractor-supplied software to combat illegal vacation rental activity by, in particular, Airbnb.
read … Out of crisis, ‘amazing opportunity’
A Real Company is Building a New Terminal at Keahole—Why is the Legislature Funding a Fake Competitor Led by Drunk Rave Promoter Jon Riki Karamatsu?
WHT: … Air Service Hawaii plans to break ground Monday on a new facility at the Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole, bringing two new terminals and a new hangar to the local airport.
The company, which started in 1948, operates at six airports throughout the state and has had a presence in Kona going back 25 years. The company’s Kona base is located toward the south ramp in the area designated for general aviation….
The Air Service Hawaii project is being designed and built by Nicholson LLC and wholly funded with company capital, Tarter said. The project will be completed in phases, Tarter said he expects the full project to be complete by January 2020….
Air Service Hawaii is currently one of two fixed base operators at the local airport along with the Orlando-headquartered Signature Flight Support….
Plans are also in the works for a new fixed base operator, the Kona Jet Center. That project, being developed by AV8 Partners, is expected to include a 36,000-square-foot hangar and a 50,000-gallon above-ground fuel facility.
A bill currently making its way through the Legislature would authorize the Department of Budget and Finance to issue up to $50 million in special-purpose revenue bonds to assist in planning, design, construction, equipping and operation of those facilities. The Senate Committee on Ways and Means recommended the bill be passed with amendments on Feb. 19….
Background: SB652: Will Legislators Give Drunk Rave Promoter $50M?
read … Air Service Hawaii eyes new terminals, hangar at airport
HB307: State House Sneaks in Revived Use of Undefined Definitions
IM: … Three years ago, Representative Cullen introduced HB 1751, that proposed expanding the definition of renewable energy to include “other resources that replenish themselves at a sufficient rate for sustainable economic extraction in meaningful human timeframes." The bill was co-authored by 12 other representatives.
In subsequent versions of the bill this definition was shortened to “other self-replenishing non-fossil fuel resources.”
Neither definition has ever been used, or even considered, in any other jurisdiction anywhere. Nor were they elaborated on within the bill….
Representatives Cullen, Aquino, Yamane reintroduced the idea as HB 307 bill in 2019.
The bill was referred to the Energy and Finance Committees. The Energy Committee refused to hear the bill.
The House leadership arranged for the bill to be re-referred to just the Finance Committee on February 28. A couple of hours later the Finance Committee heard the bill and passed it unanimously.
HB 307 states, “The legislature further finds that the State must continue to support both established renewable energy sources and those emerging from new technological innovations to meet its expansive renewable energy goals.
"Currently, the State's definition of "renewable energy" is too narrow to account for some technological innovations that produce renewable energy resources. Broadening the definition of `renewable energy` to include other self-replenishing non-fossil fuel resources could significantly advance the State's clean energy goals and produce considerable environmental and economic benefits for the State.
Accordingly, the purpose of this Act is to amend the definition of `renewable energy` to include additional self-replenishing non-fossil fuel resources.”
The Finance Committee filed a Committee Report: “No testimony was submitted on this measure.”
Next week all 51 Representatives will have another bite at the apple. A majority must vote yes for the bill to survive. The Senate can then kill it for the third time….
HTH: PGV back online in 2019?
read … Hawai`i State House Revives Use of Undefined Definitions
Pension Reform for Kauai
KGI: … • Mayor Derek S.K. Kawakami will focus new attention on the ways county employee pensions are calculated, in particular in terms of limiting an existing practice that computes pension payments based on the combination of salary and overtime during a worker’s final years on the job. Reform, he said, must include changing the system so the pension benefit is based on base salary only, without overtime.
• The county is beginning a series of department service audits, starting with the performance of the county’s largest department in terms of employees, the Department of Public Works, and its Roads Division in particular.
• His administration will institute new steps to streamline the building permit process. “When we delay a project, we have laborers sitting on the bench. The construction industry is one of the biggest economic sectors on our island.”…
read … Pension Reform