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Sunday, March 03, 2019
March 3, 2019 News Read
By Andrew Walden @ 5:34 PM :: 2073 Views

Trump knocks 'crazy female senator' Mazie Hirono for comments on men

Beware of Tax Software?

Grassroot Institute Plans Events on Oahu, Maui

Leaving Hawaii: Biggest Outflow in Last Year

Hawaii Family Forum Legislative Week in Review

Rail: Is FTA a Target of Grand Jury—Will Feds Freeze Funds as a Result?

Shapiro: … Even as a federal grand jury investigates possible criminality, following state and city audits documenting malfeasance that’s put rail $4 billion over budget and six years behind schedule, we hear more denials of reality.

Leaders from rail CEO Andrew Robbins to Gov. David Ige deny seeing any signs that the U.S. attorney’s probe will delay release of $700 million in remaining federal project funds — critical to finishing the final leg from Middle Street to Ala Moana.

No signs except perhaps the refusal of U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to discuss rail with Ige during his trip last week to Washington.

The Federal Transit Administration would be insane to release more funds while a criminal investigation is ongoing — and we’ve seen from the Louis and Katherine Kealoha case that federal grand juries don’t move quickly.

FTA officials who put more taxpayer money at risk under these circumstances should themselves become of interest to the grand jury, if they aren’t already.

The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation is even denying that it must comply with the federal subpoenas, suggesting the rail agency might refuse to turn over unredacted minutes of the HART board’s executive sessions, as it did with state Auditor Les Kondo.

Good luck with that; while the auditor elected not to use his subpoena authority to obtain the records, HART now faces a grand jury subpoena and would have to justify its stonewalling to a no-nonsense federal judge.

We can’t afford to press ahead with the blind denial of reality that’s gotten us so deeply in trouble. This project is hopelessly dysfunctional, and funding needed to complete it to Ala Moana Center won’t likely be assured anytime soon.

The only reasonable option is to regroup by pausing rail construction at Middle Street….

read … We can’t fix Honolulu rail by denying its obvious ills

Rail scrutiny goes from questions of urban planning to criminal culpability

Borreca: …Oahu taxpayers have been paying for it since 2007, the beast is not built. Not only is it not finished, HART hasn’t come up with a scheme for how to finish it. It has neither picked an entity to do the last 4.3 miles, nor specifically said how much it will cost.

That’s a big decision because whomever is picked to do the digging and shoveling and planning will be responsible for the toughest part of the route, including the congested Dillingham corridor, already packed with local businesses.

So just when HART was on the verge of making that big decision, the federal government came calling. Unfortunately for Honolulu, the feds were not bringing more much-needed cash — they were packing subpoenas, and scads of demands for documents and records…..

Buyer’s remorse backed up by the federal prosecutor’s office is a new and serious concern….

Now the picture has changed: The focus is not urban planning nor questions of financial health; the question is criminal culpability and who will answer….

read … Rail scrutiny goes from questions of urban planning to criminal culpability

Plotting GE Tax Hike Behind closed doors: Council holds secret budget meeting, discussions off agenda

HTH: A behind-the-scenes workshop and attempts to get commitments from colleagues on an item not on the agenda are two ways the County Council pushed the limits of the state Sunshine Law in recent weeks, as an especially tight county budget hangs in the balance.

And some council members hope to take more of the budget process out of the public forum by creating a subcommittee that would hold private meetings, gather information and later make recommendations to the entire body….

Mayor Harry Kim presented his proposed $573.5 million preliminary budget Friday, but components of the spending plan, such as a general excise tax increase and hikes in sewer fees, were discussed last week by the County Council.

The week before that, on Feb. 13, four members of the nine-member council, along with some council staff, attended a “Budget 101” workshop put on by the county Finance Department. There was no public notice or public attendance at the meeting.

In fact, the meeting might have gone unnoticed by the public had Kona Councilwoman Rebecca Villegas not mentioned it during a Feb. 20 council meeting on the GET increase.

“I guess I would just love to have it explained in a more public format what we went over in the budget workshop last week,” Villegas said. “From the explanations and the PowerPoint that we went through, I think it’s important that the public understand how much of the budget we have no control over.” …

Regardless of its name, the session probably should have been open to the public, said Brian Black of the nonprofit Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest, who has won several recent Hawaii Sunshine Law cases on behalf of the media and the public.

“If this workshop had simply been open to the public, the four council members’ attendance and participation at an informational presentation might have been permissible under the Sunshine Law. As it is, four members of the Council held a secret meeting to discuss official board business — the budget,” Black said Wednesday.

“It is critical that council members educate themselves about the budget, but these council members neglected the rights of the public under the Sunshine Law to observe and understand how their elected government works by discussing the budget amongst themselves outside an official meeting,” he added….

Lorna Aratani, an attorney for the state Office of Information Practices, which oversees Sunshine Law and open records matters, said she’d need to see more information before her office could comment on the issue. She said the public can submit questions or complaints to OIP, which are then investigated….

(Really Obvious Question: Is there even one person out of 180K on the Big Island who is not too cowardly to file this complaint?  We will soon see.)

read … Behind closed doors: Council holds secret budget meeting, discussions off agenda

Cut Cost of Living Instead of Hiking Minimum Wage

SA: … We support efforts to address the high cost of living. However, placing mandates on employers will increase the cost of doing business, which will be passed down to consumers and further increase the cost of living. At a certain threshold, costs cannot be passed down and businesses will need to look at downsizing. While some businesses can afford to pay above minimum wage, others can’t, forcing them to cut back hours, benefits and positions, as well as look to automation.

We need to ask ourselves, are we really moving the needle?

Minimum wage is not meant to be a living wage. It’s intended to be a wage at which companies can bring in unskilled workers and afford to train them until they build their skill level and earn increases, rising to the level of a living wage. That is how businesses retain employees, especially in this tight labor market.

Living wage takes into consideration size of household and the cost of food, child care, health care, housing, transportation and other necessities. Rather than increasing minimum wage, we should be discussing how we address the foundation of these cost drivers….

Health care is another important consideration. Under Hawaii’s Prepaid Healthcare Act, an employee’s share of health-care coverage cannot exceed 1.5 percent of his/her earnings, which means that employers are covering most, if not 100 percent, of their employees’ health care. This adds a minimum of $3/hour per employee on top of minimum wage. On average, employers pay $600/month per employee for health care. This is in addition to unemployment insurance, payroll tax, workers’ compensation, TDI (temporary disability insurance) and other costs….

read … Minimum wage hike has major costs

Green Energy Scammers Driving up Taxes and Cost of Housing

SA: … House Bill 557, which sought to tighten the requirements for solar water heaters on new homes, failed to get a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee….

HB 559 would give the electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure a boost by requiring that multi-unit residential buildings and workplaces be built with the proper wiring in place…

HB 1584 would appropriate funds to the University of Hawaii to conduct a comprehensive study of a statewide carbon tax….

read … Energy: Your Green in Their Pockets

Lying: MECO Claims customers will not pay for unused power from solar farms

MN: Maui Electric Co.’s request to the state Public Utilities Commission to recover $155,000 in payments made to Maui’s two solar farms for unused power will not cost customers anything (not true) this year (but wait til next), the utility said.

MECO plans to apply nearly $300,000 in credits from South Maui Renewable Resources and Ku’ia Solar in Lahaina for delays in coming online, MECO spokeswoman Sayble Bissen said last week.  (Translation: $300K off MECO’s books becomes another excuse for rate hikes later.)

State Consumer Advocate Dean Nishina had “questions and concerns” about applying the credits from the delayed construction of the solar farms to the curtailed energy bills.

Both solar projects were slated by agreement with MECO to go online in December 2016 with penalties for missing the deadline. The projects negotiated to have have penalties or “liquidated damages” — $111,200 for SMRR and $187,000 for Ku’ia — paid in credits to MECO in their billings.

Because of the credits, Nishina said in his Feb. 22 PUC filing that there is “no need to recover any payment from customers” by MECO.

In fact, “the Consumer Advocate questions whether the liquidated damages should offset any compensable curtailed energy payments,” he said in the filing.

The Consumer Advocate is requesting more information from MECO “to address the concern that the curtailed energy was not wasteful,” the filing said. He pointed out that state law says that wastefulness would be grounds for the PUC to deny recovery of those costs from consumers….

MECO uses its ability to curtail power from the solar farms, wind farms and rooftop PV solar installations through new MECO programs to keep the grid stable. Older rooftop PV installations flow into the grid unchecked.

The uneven energy production of renewables forces MECO to use its fossil-fuel-powered generators and curtailment of renewable projects it can regulate to maintain the equilibrium of power used and produced at any moment in time.

In its filing, MECO explained that SMRR and Ku’ia currently hold “the highest curtailment priority and are the first to be curtailed.”

(So setting the precendet that consumers must pay for the curtailment will be very expensive.)

Ku’ia and SMRR are both operated by Kenyon Energy and are paid 11.06 cents per kilowatt-hour for (wholesale erratic) energy fed into MECO’s grid, which is lower than the cost of fossil-fuel produced power (but roughly the cost of smooth retail electricity on the mainland.  But that’s OK, the sun costs more in Hawaii.) 

read … MECO says customers will not pay for unused power from solar farms

Enviros Still Trying to Keep Paper and Plastic out of H-Power

SA: … Noting the falling values of recyclable glass, aluminum and paper now being collected in the city’s curbside recycling program, the city auditor in 2017 proposed redirecting much of it.

The waste, recyclable or otherwise, could go to the garbage-to-energy plant, H-POWER, to reduce the volume of what otherwise is bound for the landfill, according to the audit. The numbers are hard to dispute. From a high in 2011 when the sales value of the collected materials topped $2.5 million annually, it has dropped by more than half — and continues to fall.

Regardless, the notion of abandoning the curbside recycling effort quickly drew opposition from environmental groups, including the Sierra Club. Jodi Malinoski, policy advocate for the Hawaii chapter, said the organization does not want to see the city continually feeding its garbage to the plant, even if harvesting energy from it is a partial offset.

“It seems like we have to keep the fire going,” she said. “It’s time to cut that out.” 

(Translation: We Enviros profit from Paper and plastic Recycling scams.)

Auditor Edwin S.W. Young, who has since retired, concluded that the city “could have reduced solid-waste disposal costs by $7 million and could have generated about $29.5 million in electricity revenues by diverting recycled waste to the H-POWER facility.”…

Background:

read … Oahu’s recycling programs face challenges

SB522 Styrofoam Ban Statewide

HTH: …A bill passing through the state legislature may spell the end for plastic bottles, styrofoam food containers and more across the state.

Senate Bill 522 sets a lofty goal to ban the sale, use or distribution of plastic beverage bottles, utensils, stirring sticks, straws and polystyrene foam containers anywhere in the state by 2023….

state and county agencies would be prohibited from using the items after July 1, 2021. One year later, the items would be prohibited in restaurants, hotels, bars and other food vendors. And by July 1, 2023, the products would be prohibited for all businesses and individuals.

The bill would also establish a working group to develop effective ways to eliminate single-use plastic packaging from the state’s waste stream, encourage reuse and composting plastics in the state’s food industry and phase out single use plastic beverage containers….

A number of businesses and trade organizations testified against the bill at committee hearings, with the Hawaii Food Retailers Association — which represents 200 member companies — warning that it would “raise prices on essential items for Hawaii consumers and limit Hawaii residents’ access to a range of products.”

Meanwhile, several Honolulu businesses lamented that the ban would raise their own costs of doing business.

SB522: Text, Status

read … Styrofoam Ban

Tourism Industry Tries to Shut Down Aquarium Fishers (again)

SA: … Just two years ago, the Legislature easily passed a measure that would have prohibited the state from issuing new permits for commercial collection using fine-mesh nets, the primary tool of the trade. Individuals who submitted written testimony overwhelmingly supported the bill, which the Senate passed by a 25-0 vote. The House adopted it by a more than 2-to-1 margin.

But Gov. David Ige, after receiving thousands of calls and emails, vetoed the bill, saying the science didn’t support claims made in the legislation.

Stung by Ige’s veto, trade opponents are stressing cultural factors rather than scientific ones to try to persuade legislators this session to prohibit commercial collecting — regardless of the method used.

Senate Bill 931, which is moving through that chamber, would establish a complete ban effective March 1, 2024. Allowing the trade to continue in a manner that harms marine resources is contrary to traditional Hawaiian practices, according to the bill.

The debate at the Legislature comes at a time when the industry is struggling, especially on Hawaii island, where more than 70 percent of the state’s aquarium harvesting usually occurs.

Until last year, most of the catch happened along the Kona coast, where the state in 1999 designated open and no-take zones to address increasing conflicts in the water. About a third of the coast, including Milolii, was deemed off-limits to the trade.

In January 2018, however, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, which regulates the industry, made the entire coast off-limits.

The agency was responding to a September 2017 Hawaii Supreme Court decision that banned the commercial use of fine-mesh nets pending an environmental review. The department also stopped issuing new aquarium permits or renewals pending the review.

The court ruling has had a dramatic impact on reported catches.

Aquarium fishers in 2018 collected about 227,000 fish statewide, half the total from 2016, the last full year before the court order took effect, according to DLNR data….

Willy Kaupiko likewise doesn’t hide his resentment….He blames the industry for ruining fishing (dive tour) spots once teeming with marine life. Divers in the past restricted the amount they caught, what they caught and how frequently they would return to a spot, knowing that was the key to maintaining the vibrancy of the reef environment, according to Kaupiko. He said collectors today have lost their way, blinded by dollars….

(Translation: This is driven by dive tour operator hysteria hyped up by animal liberation nuts paid by billionaires.)

“No one (who) is fighting to shut down the fishery has any interest in facts,” Michael Domeier, president of the Marine Conservation Science Institute in Kailua-Kona said in a email. “All of the science that exists for the HI aquarium fishery shows that it is the most sustainable fishery in the state.”…

Inga Gibson, a(animal liberation nut from the Humane Society)  consultant (paid by?) who has lobbied for bills to end the trade, said the no-take zones from 1999 were a good start.

“We absolutely agree that was a tremendous accomplishment,” Gibson said. “That doesn’t mean you stop there.”

She, Umberger and other trade opponents aren’t stopping there. They are pursuing initiatives even beyond the legislative arena and have made some gains.

Among other things, they recently partnered with DLNR to establish a hotline for reporting poaching and other violations. They also persuaded eBay to discontinue allowing its online platform to be used to sell Hawaii marine life for aquarium purposes.

Their ultimate goal, though, is ending commercial collecting in Hawaii….

Only Honest Comment: “Look at the thousands of dollars people pay to snorkel around in Marine Life Conservation Districts to look at live fish in their natural environment.” 

(Case closed.)

read … Tourism Industry at Work

How Maurice Arrisgado Jr. escaped OCCC before he was shot

KHON: … he was not shackled …

This isn't the first time an inmate escaped through an open gate.

In 2013, Teddy Munet escaped while being transported to Honolulu Circuit Court.

At the time, the department of public safety said they would look into making sure that didn't happen again.

And yet it happened again last night.

KHON: "Is there any way that door that the inmate escaped through could have been closed? Or, in the future, will this be dealt with differently?"

"He exited that door so obviously in one form or another it was open and that is part of this investigation," said Espinda….

read … How Maurice Arrisgado Jr. escaped OCCC before he was shot

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