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Saturday, December 20, 2014
December 20, 2014 News Read
By Andrew Walden @ 4:08 PM :: 4968 Views

Federalist Society: Is Obama Bringing the Akaka Bill Back?

Flying to Hawaii: Comparing the Cost and Frequency Across States

The Economic Impact of Astronomy in Hawaii

Reforming No Child Left Behind

Lying About 'Temporary' Tax Hikes is Old Tactic

KHON: A temporary excise tax surcharge — which, when applied to the 4 percent excise tax, actually computes to 4.712 percent — helps pay for most of the $5.2 billion project.

So far, that surcharge has collected a little more than $1.3 billion. Even though surcharge collections have generally risen since the surcharge went into effect in 2007, project officials say they are now $41 million short of projections.

That triggered the push to extend the tax beyond its expiration date, now to the end of 2022.

“At the moment, what’s happening is it’s costing every taxpayer $200 a year, and that’s every man, woman and child,” said Tom Yamachika, the president of the Tax Foundation of Hawaii.

That is a $200 hit to each person’s wallet, and it adds up when you consider the impact on a family of five. For that family, that’s $1,000 a year, and that has been the impact for the past seven years.

Lawmakers promised in 2005 that the rail surcharge would be temporary. The last time state lawmakers talked about a temporary tax was back in 1986. It was the hotel room tax, proceeds of which were meant to help build the Hawaii Convention Center. The center was opened in 1998, and the tax is still with us.

“Not only is the convention center built, but the tax then was 5 percent,” said Yamachika. “We’ve come a long way since then, and now its 9.25 percent, and it’s just been made permanent.”

KHON2 asked Joe Souki, Speaker of the State House of Representatives, what the chances are of making the rail tax surcharge permanent.

“I don’t think so,” said Souki. “It will be a challenge just to have the extension.”

Still, Yamachika remembers the promises made in 1986 with the hotel room tax and 2005 with the rail surcharge.

“They told us when they originally enacted the tax that it would be temporary,” said Yamachika. “And we hope they will keep their promise. But as we know from lots of things that have happened in the state, lawmakers don’t always keep their promises.”

read ... $1000 per Family

Caldwell: HART GE Tax Revenues Being Manipulated to Fake Crisis

KITV: Taxes are expected to fund nearly 70 percent of the rail project, but that money's running $40 million behind projections.

"I don't understand why the GET for the state is going up very steeply and the GET on Oahu are far below that.  When we know the strong economy is on this island and not the neighbor island," said Caldwell.

That tax is expected to end in 2022.  But Mayor Caldwell says one of the solutions to the rising cost is to extend that tax.  Another option is the city would issue low interest bonds.  But, one thing's that's not on the table is using more than $200 million in federal dollars normally used for the city's bus system.

"I'm going to make this clear.  As mayor, none of the bus money will be used for rail.  It is about bus and rail together and taking away money would pit bus against rail," said Caldwell....

read ... Caldwell

Lawmakers question the rush to extend rail surcharge

SA: ...Grabauskas and other HART officials suggested several ways of addressing the anticipated shortfall, including extending the GET surcharge beyond its 2022 expiration date, possibly permanently.

That suggestion touched off a furor among critics and skeptics of the rail project, who said it was inevitable that the price tag would jump.

But Senate Ways and Means Chairwoman Jill Tokuda and House Finance Chairwoman Sylvia Luke on Friday said they want city officials to paint a clearer picture of why they need more money and why they have to make such a critical decision seven years before the sunset date of the surcharge.

Since the Legislature agreed to the surcharge in 2006, HART and the Hono­lulu City Council have controlled how the rail project should be financed, Luke said. "The state Legislature has been completely out of the picture (on) the rail discussion," she said.

If HART officials want an extension, it's up to them "to educate the legislators and state officials now about what's going on, what are some of the problems," she said. (Translation: HART must invent justifications for us to raise taxes.)

Luke (D, Punchbowl-Pauoa-Nuu­anu) said she expects the discussion to take place during hearings in the transportation and money committees before lawmakers have enough information to make intelligent choices.

Tokuda (D, Kailua-Kane­ohe) said she expects city officials to give a preview of their request at a joint informational budget briefing before the Finance and Ways and Means committees in mid-January, when the City and County of Hono­lulu and the other three counties typically outline their top legislative priorities for the session....

One key question is why a decision to extend the surcharge needs to be done in the 2015 Legislature and not closer to the 2022 sunset date when there will be a truer picture of the actual project cost, she said....

State Rep. Gene Ward (R, Kalama Valley-Queen's Gate-Hawaii Kai), a rail critic, said Hono­lulu officials are reneging on their agreement with state lawmakers and taxpayers to keep the tax going only through 2022.

"I think it's a broken promise, is a simple way of putting it," Ward said. He and others are reluctant to vote for any tax increase, and city officials should simply find a way to work the rail project so they can "live within their means." ....

Kobayashi said it may be time for HART officials to seriously consider scrapping plans for rail and instead allow buses, instead of trains, to travel exclusively along the 20-mile guideway from East Kapo­lei to Ala Moana Center.

Such a plan would eliminate the need for rail cars and tracks, and allow more commuters from outside the guideway, such as Wai­anae, Maka­kilo, Ewa Beach, Mili­lani and Wahiawa, to take advantage of a dedicated route without ever needing to get off their buses, she said.

"Maybe that might be cheaper," Koba­ya­shi said. "And then we wouldn't have to have park-and-rides."

In response to a Hono­lulu Star-Advertiser query, Grabauskas said in an email that it's too late to entertain that idea.

Under the city's full funding agreement with the Federal Transit Administration, "we are not allowed to change our plans mid-stream from a rail transit system to one using buses," Grabauskas said. "To switch from steel-on-steel rail technology to buses using rubber tires, we would have to return the existing federal funding and reapply for the money."

read ... Lawmakers question the rush to extend rail surcharge

Attention Honolulu: Maui County Forced to Relax Affordable Housing Requirements

MN: The Maui County Council voted Friday to relax its workforce housing rules to require between 20 and 25 percent affordable housing in projects from developers - down from a 50 percent requirement.

The measure passed on second and final reading on a 6-1 vote, with Council Member Elle Cochran voting no. Council Chairwoman Gladys Baisa and Council Member Michael Victorino were excused.

Since 2006, the county has required developers to build as many affordable units as market-priced units in new projects. But council members say only a handful of workforce housing units have been built since adoption of the ordinance, and the demand for affordable housing on Maui continues to climb.

That's why, councilors said, the rules need to be relaxed to encourage developers to build more homes on Maui.

read ... Those who do not learn from History are doomed to repeat it

Angling for Money, UH Claims to be Unable to Afford Cancer Center Debt

HNN: ...University of Hawaii officials said the relatively new Cancer Center can't afford its multi-million dollar mortgage and must develop a new business model to survive.

They asked state lawmakers for help Thursday, just a month after Dr. Michele Carbone, the center's controversial director, stepped down.

The first major problem: UH is spending $8 million a year paying off the mortgage or the "debt service" on its beautiful new Cancer Center complex in Kakaako.

Those payments will continue for 25 years, until 2040.

"They have a building that it is gorgeous that unfortunately they can't afford. It's reality," Vassilis Syrmos, UH's vice president for research and innovation told members of the State House higher education committee Thursday.

The Cancer Center relies on millions of dollars a year from the state's cigarette tax to pay its bills.

But because more people are quitting smoking and others are switching to e-cigarettes that are not taxed, cigarette tax revenue is falling by 7 percent a year.

The Cancer Center's share of the tax has fallen from $20 million a year in 2010 to a little more than $14 million in the last year, Syrmos said....

As Explained: Washington Monument Gambit and The Seven Rules of Bureaucracy

read ... A typical bureaucratic trick

Desperate: Hawaii Health Connector enrollment deadline extended

SA: The Hawaii Health Connector has extended the deadline for residents to enroll in health insurance that takes effect on Jan. 1.

The extension will be until noon on Dec. 31. The original deadline was this past Monday.

Reality: Only 3,500 Sign Up for Obamacare in Hawaii

read ...  Hawaii Health Connector enrollment deadline extended

Pressler: HHSC, State Hospital top list of DoH Priorities

PBN: I am most looking forward to improving public understanding of the role of public health in the health and welfare of our state. When public health is working most effectively it is taken for granted because fewer problems arise and it is largely invisible. We think we don't need it because we have clean water, clean air, prompt treatment for those with behavioral health needs, no infectious disease outbreaks, no chronic diseases, no homeless people, or domestic violence, or rodent infestations, or oil spills, or delays in medical treatment or … [the list continues].

My first priority as the incoming director of health will be to address a few urgent issues. First and foremost is the solvency of the Environmental Response Revolving Fund that supports the 24-7 hazard evaluation and response capacity for the state. Another initial priority will be follow-up from the state Senate investigative report on the Hawaii State Hospital, particularly related to employee and patient safety and census management.

And, of course, there is the serious issue of the solvency of the public hospitals of the Hawaii Health Systems Corp. and the future of the Hawaii Health Connector.

read ... Virginia Pressler outlines agenda for Hawaii Department of Health

Caldwell Won’t Discuss the Problems of Honolulu’s Police Chief

CB: Mayor calls chief's stolen mailbox case "a private matter," even though it's the subject of a potential FBI investigation.

read ... Caldwell Won’t Discuss the Problems of Honolulu’s Police Chief

Kauai PD first in state to use body cams on patrol

HNN:  At first, the five Kauai police officers were uneasy about wearing cameras that record video and audio while they work.

"The biggest concern for anybody, both the public and the officers, is a sense of somebody's watching you," says Officer Stacy Perreira.

But after the month-long pilot program, many had grown fond of the devices, including Officer Tyson Contrades, "I like it. I think it will be a good thing for our officers and the community."

KGI: Extra pair of eyes

read ... Kauai PD first in state to use body cams on patrol

Morita Ordered to Tear Down Vacation Rentals--fine cut in half

KGI: The state Land Board reached a settlement with Hawaii Public Utilities Chair Hermina Morita and her husband Lance Laney over the bed and breakfast the couple illegally built and operated for more than a decade in Hanalei.

“The board settled the matter with Mr. Laney … to avoid further litigation and reduce further enforcement costs,” the state Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands wrote in an email.

In late May, following an investigation by DLNR staff into allegations that the couple operated the North Shore getaway Taro Patch Hale in a state conservation district without permission, the state Land Board issued $31,000 in fines and ordered the landowners to completely remove the two rental cottages — named Lii Cottage and Nui Cottage — and “discontinue all commercial activity” on the property.

A decision and order Dec. 12, however, lowered the fine to $15,000. It was reached during a contested case hearing process. The couple has 90 days to pay the fine and tear down the two rental cottages, according to the terms of the settlement.

read ... Morita's fine cut in half

Financial Disclosure Debate Moving to Hawaii Supreme Court

CB: The debate over whether the Hawaii State Ethics Commission must release the financial disclosure statements of certain state board members is heading to the Hawaii Supreme Court.

First Circuit Judge Rhonda Nishimura last month ruled in favor of Honolulu Civil Beat’s request for a preliminary injunction that would force the commission to release the records immediately.

On Friday, she denied the state Attorney General’s request for a stay pending appeal. The state is expected to instead ask the Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus as Civil Beat had proposed.

The news outlet’s attorney, Brian Black, executive director of The Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest, said it will likely be late January before the request for the writ is made. He was pleased with the judge’s ruling, saying it should provide for a more expeditious remedy.

It’s unknown what the Supreme Court will do though. The justices could decide that Nishimura’s Nov. 12 ruling should stand and the records should be released immediately, or they could direct the parties to go through a more formal appeals process that would likely take significantly longer.

Recognizing that once the records are released “the bell cannot be un-rung,” Nishimura told Black and Deputy Attorney General Robyn Chun that asking for a writ of mandamus is not just the most expeditious route, but the most practical in terms of providing instruction to the court.

read ... Disclosure

Aloha United Way flexes political muscle to rebuff ethics recommendation

ILind: The only item to draw news coverage was the commission’s rejection of a staff recommendation that the state shift its support from the Aloha United Way as a central charitable fundraising program with a “combined campaign” that relies primarily on donor choice (see the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, “Officials dismiss proposal by staffers to cut AUW“)....

It may be that this was an isolated situation involving a politically very well connected nonprofit organization, since the AUW board of directors is like a Who’s Who of the business and labor power elite. But the commission’s action could also be an indication an unwillingness by the current commissioners to back up the relatively hard-line positions taken by the commission’s executive director, Les Kondo. This is a situation that deserves careful monitoring in the months ahead....

LINK: staff recommendations

read ... Aloha United Way flexes political muscle to rebuff ethics recommendation

Drug Dealer Marries Two-Time Killer in Hawaii's First Prison Gay Marriage

HNN: The ceremony took place inside the Women's Community Correctional Center in Kailua Friday afternoon.

According to officials, the inmates -- 28-year-old Terann Pavao and 40-year-old Totie Tauala -- completed all the necessary paperwork with the Department of Public Safety and received their marriage license from the state earlier this week....

Pavao has two years left on a variety of drug-related convictions, including assault and theft. Tauala is halfway through a 20-year sentence for manslaughter, and is eligible for parole in 2019.

The warden say they will receive no special treatment as a married couple. Officials say they will not be housed together and both state and federal law prohibits inmates from engaging in any sexual acts....

read ... About some people you won't see on Glee

Gabbard to Push Hemp Again this Session

CB: ...the 2014 Farm Bill removed ‘hemp grown for research purposes’ from the “Controlled Substances Act.”

Soon after, the Legislature passed a version of a bill I introduced, SB 2175, which became Act 56. This law authorized the UH College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, known as CTAHR, to establish a two-year hemp remediation and biofuel research project.

Interestingly, most people don’t realize this isn’t the first time hemp has been grown for research purposes in Hawaii. In 1999, Act 305 established a hemp research project that was conducted under a U.S. DEA permit until 2003. The project was on a quarter of acre of land in Wahiawa and was financed by a private company. The study concluded that the Asian variety of hemp seeds, especially those from China, were more adaptive to our climate. So, we already have the results of that research to guide us in going forward with the new study. Of course, I’d like to see us go one step more by allowing full-scale industrial hemp....

read ... Gabbard to Push Hemp Again this Session

Maui Council Gives Mayor Authority to Raise Water Rates by Declaring 'Shortage'

MN: "I believe more work needs to be done and will be forthcoming in other committees as well as the water resources committee."

If signed by the mayor, the bill would allow the director of the Department of Water Supply to declare a water shortage whenever the water supply becomes inadequate, whether from drought or mechanical water equipment breakdowns, and implement higher water rates in times of shortage.

Specific rates to be implemented during water shortages have not yet been set.

Councilors said those details will be worked out during council Budget and Finance Committee deliberations next term. Higher water shortage rates cannot be implemented until the council approves the rate charge.

read ... Rate Hikes

TAT?  Study Group Says Hire Consultant

CB: A working group that’s trying to figure out how just much hotel tax revenue the state should give the counties is planning to ask the Legislature for $150,000 next session so it can hire a consultant to help.

The 13-member group, created under a law passed last year, released its interim report to state lawmakers Friday.

The final report is due prior to the convening of the 2016 session. It’s expected to recommend to the Legislature the appropriate allocation of the transient accommodations tax revenues between the state and counties based on the division of duties and responsibilities between them.

PDF: Interim Report

read ... Study Group, Consultant, LOL

Walter Ritte, Anti-GMO Activists Hail Thugs Who Attacked Fishermen

MN: Nearly 50 people filled the courtroom in support of the men arraigned by 2nd Circuit Judge Joseph Cardoza. After the arraignment, the group gathered outside the courtroom to talk and rally behind the men.

"This happening is a great way to highlight that people have been coming from different islands to Molokai to rape, pillage and raid our resources for the longest time," said (anti-GMO activist) Hanohano Naehu, a Molokai representative for the Aha Moku Advisory Committee, which assists the state Department of Land and Natural Resources with management. "For us on Molokai, these four individuals are heroes. All they were doing was protecting the resources for our families, for our communities, for our island."

(Question: Does anybody really believe that a few small boats from Oahu are depleting Molokai fisheries?  Really?)

The incident occurred May 25, when the men reportedly boarded the boat in waters off east Molokai. Dr. Daryl Wong, who is well-known for his diving and custom handcrafted spear guns on Oahu, and three others were on board. An altercation took place on the boat, where fishing equipment was damaged, officials said. One person was either shoved or fell overboard.

read ... Ritte's Thugs

NextEra to Drill for Natural Gas

IM: Bloomberg News (December 19, 2014) reported that “NextEra Energy Inc. (NEE) won approval from Florida regulators for its utility to skip the middleman and drill for its own natural gas.”

FP&L proposed investing nearly $50 million in a joint venture with Petroquest Energy Inc. to develop wells in southeastern Oklahoma’s Woodford shale.  Read more here: LINK

The Miami Herald reported that "Florida Power & Light wants to get into the natural gas fracking business." ...

The regulatory review took half a year to process. The Staff analysis was completed in November....

read ... Florida Power and Light moves into fuel production market

Russian Nuclear Bombers Again Buzz Guam--Unchallenged

FB: Russian strategic bombers conducted a third circumnavigation of the U.S. Pacific island of Guam last week as other bombers flew close to Alaska and Europe, defense officials said.

Two Tu-95 Bear H bombers made the flight around Guam, a key U.S. military hub in the western Pacific, on Dec. 13. No U.S. interceptor jets were dispatched to shadow the bombers.

Separately, two Canadian F-18s intercepted two Bear bombers that intruded into the Alaska air defense identification zone on Dec. 8 that a military spokesman called “unwanted, provocative, and potentially destabilizing.”

Around the same time in Europe, NATO jets intercepted Russian Tu-95 and Tu-22 Backfire bombers also conducting provocative flights.

read ... Hawaii Next

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