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March 24, 2024 News Read
By Andrew Walden @ 6:35 PM :: 1148 Views

Fear of the Unknown 

201 Candidates Pull Papers Statewide

Lawmakers’ rigged game keeps them cozy and paid

Shapiro: … Hawaii’s state and city lawmakers may not be so sharp at taking care of public concerns such as affordable housing, gridlocked traffic and rundown infrastructure, but they’re wizards at taking care of themselves.

For the second year, a popular bill to reform elections via public funding died at the hands of a committee chair despite apparent broad support among lawmakers.

In 2023 it was Senate Ways and Means Chair Donovan Dela Cruz who deep-sixed the measure, intended to diminish the dominance of special- interest campaign donations that prop up incumbents, after versions had passed both houses.

This year House Judiciary Chair David Tarnas did the dirty deed, even after the measure had passed the Senate and had the endorsement of House Speaker Scott Saiki.

Tarnas, who supported the bill last year, now cited problems with funding and staffing that were poison pills inserted by legislators that could have easily been fixed….

Legislators can safely feign support for reform, knowing committee chairs like Tarnas or Dela Cruz will take the heat for all of them by killing it in the end.

At Honolulu Hale the city Salary Commission appointed by Mayor Rick Blangiardi and the City Council is proposing new 3% pay raises for both — despite the fact that Blangiardi doesn’t want it and public outrage is still high over last year’s 64% Council salary bumps.

If the new raises are finalized, pay for part-time Council members will have risen since 2023 to $116,712 from $68,904, engineered by Chair Tommy Waters to take effect without Council hearings or votes.

Waters and his vice chair, Esther Kia‘aina, haven’t fulfilled their promise to push legislation making Council jobs full time, leaving a worst-of-both-worlds situation in which members draw full-time pay while still free to hold often-lucrative outside jobs that put them deeper in the pockets of special interests….

read … Lawmakers’ rigged game keeps them cozy and paid

HB2184: Public Corruption a Source of Campaign Funds

CB: … If someone has been convicted of public corruption or found in violation of various campaign finance, ethical or lobbying offenses, should they be banned from making political campaign contributions? That’s the question posed by House Bill 2184, which is being discussed in the Hawaii Legislature this session.

Last week, Sen. Karl Rhoads narrowed the scope of the bill after hearing concerns about First Amendment rights and other issues from the Hawaii Attorney General’s Office, the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission and the Hawaii State Ethics Commission.

Rhoads took out the language prohibiting people found in violation of campaign finance, ethics or lobbying activities and replaced it with persons who have been “quasi-government” employees convicted of a criminal offense involving the acceptance of bribes….

(CLUE: Teach players to move up in the world by avoiding federal entanglements.)

read … The Sunshine Blog: A Journalistic No-No, Pot Promises And The Prince

Scammers Shudder as State senators target Hawaii’s energy policy agency

SA: … Currently, the Energy Office is one of about 10 agencies that have independent authority but are attached to DBEDT only for administrative support. Other such agencies include the Hawaii Tourism Authority, the Hawaii Community Development Authority, the Hawaii Technology Development Corp. and the Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corp….

State senators recently sent the House of Representatives a bill to turn the Hawaii State Energy Office into a division of the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

The introduction and advancement of Senate Bill 3282 follows displeasure with the Energy Office in recent years from some of the bill’s introducers, and comes four years after the Legislature reorganized the agency to improve its focus and achievements in part by converting it from a DBEDT division to an agency with a Cabinet-level director.

In addition to folding the Energy Office into DBEDT, SB 3282 would change the office’s leader to an administrator appointed by DBEDT’s director instead of an appointee of the governor….

(CLUE: Purpose is to shut down rampant production of ‘intermittent’ alt-energy sources and allow focus on baseload electric production.)

The Energy Office also oversees the state’s goal of deriving 100% of energy from renewable sources by 2045, for which some lawmakers who support SB 3282 have criticized the agency.

Some of that criticism relates to utility-scale solar farm projects that have been delayed or canceled by developers over cost or material supply issues under contracts with Hawaiian Electric Co. and approved by the state Public Utilities Commission; the PUC’s rejection of a biomass power plant project called Hu Honua on Hawaii island; and the shutdown of a coal-fired AES Corp. power plant on Oahu in 2022, which was endorsed by the Legislature….

(See? Told you.)

DBEDT didn’t submit testimony on SB 3282, though Deputy Director Dane Wicker said in response to a question at a Feb. 8 hearing on the bill that DBEDT can work with divisions more quickly to develop strategic plans compared with attached agencies that sometimes have their own boards of directors, though the Energy Office doesn’t have a board….

The committee advanced the bill in a 5-0 vote led by Sens. Lynn DeCoite (D, East and Upcountry Maui-Molokai-Lanai) and Glenn Wakai (D, Kalihi-Salt Lake-Pearl Harbor), who are chair and vice chair, respectively, and were co-introducers of the bill.

The bill’s lead introducer is Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, who said the Energy Office lacks oversight by DBEDT.

Dela Cruz (D, Mililani-Wahiawa-Whitmore Village) chairs the Senate Ways and Means Committee, which advanced the bill in a 11-0 vote Feb. 23….

A 25-0 vote by the full Senate on March 5 sent the bill to the House for consideration. No House committee had scheduled a hearing on the bill as of Friday.…

read … State senators target Hawaii’s energy policy agency

The Clock Is Ticking For Hawaii To Waste Its Remaining $400M in Federal Coronavirus Funds

CB: … The state of Hawaii and the counties have until the end of the year to obligate up to $400 million in federal funds meant to alleviate the impacts of Covid-19 and support economic recovery, or face returning it.

That amount is what’s left of the $1.91 billion Hawaii got from the American Rescue Plan Act passed by Congress in 2021, the largest federal aid package since the 2007 recession.

State and local governments have until the end of 2026 to complete approved projects, but all funds must be tied to contracts, RFPs or purchase orders by Dec. 31, 2024….

As of the end of September — the most recent quarter reported by the U.S. Treasury — total obligations by the state and the counties were $1.7 billion, with around $1.5 billion expended out of the $1.9 billion.

That leaves $210 million in funds that need to be obligated in the next nine months and $190 million that has to yet be committed for any purpose in Hawaii….

read … The Clock Is Ticking For Hawaii To Commit Its Remaining Federal Coronavirus Funds

The state’s largest largest daily newspaper fails its first test under new ownership

ILind: … I searched Staradvertiser.com. Nothing to be found.

So I went outside and brought in the print version, which was waiting in our driveway. I found the story, published without a byline, buried inside at the bottom of page 11.

And it was really just a smiley-face press release, not a piece of business reporting.

But even that meager reporting was effectively and efficiently scrubbed from the online version.

So the shift in ownership to a newspaper company that hails from the deep South isn’t off to a good start, at least if you regularly turn to the daily newspaper for news.

It shouldn’t have been a surprise. Throughout the several months between the time that Black Press filed in a Canadian court for protection from its creditors, and through the process leading up to Friday’s transfer of ownership, the newspaper failed to cover its own story. Interested readers had to turn to reporting by the publisher of a small community newspaper in Canada, and a Seattle-area news blog.

Looking back, the transition in March 2001, when David Black closed on his purchase of the “old” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, it was very different.

The first day of publication under Black’s ownership featured extensive reporting on the deal and its impact, going far beyond the kind of puff-piece journalism reflected in Friday’s single buried-and-then-disappeared story….

read … The state’s largest largest daily newspaper fails its first test under new ownership

More examples of Miske’s threats disrupting bidding at a Honolulu auto auction

ILind: … as word of Miske’s reputation and threats spread among auction regulars, they reached an unspoken agreement to avoid bidding against Miske.

Miske reportedly bought at least several hundred cars at auction, although it isn’t clear what was done with them.

Some were allegedly turned over to his associates to sell as if they had been their privately-owned cars without the protections offered by law to customers of licensed car dealers….

read … More examples of Miske’s threats disrupting bidding at a Honolulu auto auction

Housing: Its getting Harder and Harder for Governor to Blame TVRs

SA: … Building regulations in Hawaii — with their unnecessary bureaucracy, impossible permitting processes and prohibitive zoning rules — drive the cost of condominium development up by 58%, the highest in the country.

During my first year in office, I signed two Emergency Proclamations Relating to Housing — empowering Hawaii’s leading housing experts to cut through red tape and approve new housing projects more quickly and easily.

(And then he abolished it after its complete failure.)

We immediately approved 10,800 new low-income units for struggling families, and took action to reform the housing bureaucracy.

(These units exist only on paper.  Do you really believe they will be built?)

Since then we have approved or accelerated multiple new projects to bring thousands of homes to nurses, teachers, firefighters and working families across our state.

(These units exist only on paper.  Do you really believe they will be built?)

But a challenge of this magnitude requires multiple solutions.

(CLUE: Check out all the realities Green has to acknowledge before attempting to trick you into letting him exploit this crisis on behalf of his ILWU and UNITE Here Local 5 hotel union backers.)

Building alone won’t solve our housing crisis — we must return thousands of short-term rentals to the local housing market to increase supply and bring down prices….

In addition, 75,000 of the 89,000 units in our STR market are “not legal,” according to existing laws. That represents more than 80% of the STRs here — and more than our entire statewide housing deficit of 50,000 units….

(CLUE: 75,000 illegal TVRs is a phony number supplied by hotel unions.  Legal TVRs have rights and cannot be ‘taken’ away without compensation.  So this bogus ‘illegal’ number is needed to create the illusion that 75,000 non-existent units can be freed up for housing.)

Just over a year ago, we faced the second-highest per capita homeless rate in the country. Hawaii’s homelessness rate of 43 per 10,000 people is more than double the national rate of 18 per 10,000 — with a total of 6,223 people unhoused.

Soon after taking office, I signed an Emergency Proclamation on Homelessness to cut through red tape — allowing us to begin construction of 12 kauhale villages statewide in 2024 and 20 by the end of 2025….

(30 bums per kauhale x 20 kauhales = 600 bums.  This is just for show.   Not nearly enough.  And there are only 2 kauhale today.  The rest exist only on paper.)

Big Q: Do you support attempts to convert short-term rentals into housing?

read … Column: Short-term units for homes, kauhale for homeless

Allow more ohana housing to ease crisis

SA: … This year, the state Legislature’s Housing Chairs Rep. Luke Evslin and Sen. Stanley Chang took bold action to address Hawaii’s housing crisis by introducing House Bill 1630 and Senate Bill 3202. These bills would allow smaller homes on smaller lots that would be more affordable for Hawaii residents.

The bills are still alive in the Legislature, but vested interests have been actively working to undermine these efforts.

On Thursday, Honolulu City Council’s Planning and Economy Committee passed Resolution 24-65, which would have the Council express its opposition to the bills.

The original version of the proposed city resolution alleged the state bills threaten to create a “slum of small zoning lots within close proximity to each other, increasing the chances of conflict among neighbors, the spread of fire, and the proliferation of disease vectors.”

This disturbing language was amended out of the resolution, but it exemplifies the mindset of the Not In My Backyard (NIMBY) narrative and is simply false.

Currently, each of Hawaii’s four counties requires new single-family homes to be built on lots of at least 5,000 square feet or more. These mandates prevent the development of a diverse housing ecosystem, and the sprawling homes they have encouraged cater mostly to millionaires, doing nothing to help working families enter the housing market….

HPR: Honolulu lawmakers, residents concerned about bill allowing for denser neighborhoods

read … Column: Allow more ohana housing to ease crisis

Zoning reform can cure isles’ housing struggles

SA: … This housing shortage is driven by Hawaii’s restrictive zoning and difficult permitting processes. Examples of restrictive zoning include prohibiting apartments in areas zoned for office buildings and commerce, dorm-style co-living, starter homes and town houses on small lots, and duplexes — all of which are much more affordable than large, single-family homes that receive the most favorable treatment under Hawaii’s zoning codes.

Even after the Lahaina fire, cumbersome permitting and zoning restrictions have been a major reason those who lost their homes have found it difficult or impossible to find new ones….

Minneapolis, for example, now allows apartment buildings on all commercial and transit corridors and has eliminated parking mandates. As a result, the city has been permitting housing at triple the rate of the rest of Minnesota. The result has been both positive and predictable: new housing in Minneapolis, where rents haven’t risen in seven years and homelessness has dropped.

Places as diverse as Portland, Ore.; Tysons, Va.; and New Rochelle, N.Y., have enacted similar reforms that sharply slowed rent growth. Houston achieved similar success by reducing its minimum lot size to allow townhouses throughout the city and has also seen homelessness drop. And states such as California, Florida, Montana and Washington have noticed, and have recently passed bipartisan laws to reform zoning at the state level….

As recently as the 1970s, homelessness was much less common in the United States. If people couldn’t afford a studio or one-bedroom apartment, they could rent a micro-unit with a shared bathroom and kitchen. This housing was affordable even to someone earning the minimum wage or on a fixed income.

But new zoning restrictions pushed this low-cost housing out of existence, and research shows that high rents are now the foremost driver of homelessness. So, given Hawaii’s high rents, it’s not surprising that the state is one of only five where more than 40 people per 10,000 are homeless.

However, Oahu office vacancies — currently topping 13% — offer an opportunity to revive micro-units and quickly make a dent in homelessness. Allowing vacant offices to be converted into low-cost housing, often called adaptive reuse, addresses several problems at once: reducing vacancies, reviving downtowns, adding rental homes and reducing homelessness….

read … Column: Zoning reform can cure isles’ housing struggles

Lawmakers Need A Better Plan For Figuring Out The Cost Of Legislation

CB: … Enter the fiscal note — a cost estimate attached to every bill the Legislature considers. These notes help ensure responsible budgeting and informed decision-making. And Hawaii is the only state that doesn’t mandate them at all.

The most recent comprehensive report on state fiscal note practices dates to 2015. Then, 38 states and the District of Columbia prepared notes for nearly all bills. Every other state requires fiscal notes for at least some legislation. California, for example, requires a fiscal impact statement for ballot initiatives submitted to voters….

Bills proposing implementing some version of these practices in Hawaii’s legislative process have been a staple in Republican packages, at least since I was elected in 2013 and signed one. This year, Rep. Gene Ward is the only Republican to sign on to one.

Curiously, it’s a proposal led by progressive Democratic Rep. Natalia Hussey-Burdick…

read … Beth Fukumoto: Lawmakers Need A Better Plan For Figuring Out The Cost Of Legislation

Can state stem condo-insurance crisis?

SA: … I am the HOA president of a 7-story, 35-unit condo in the McCully area. From 2021 to 2024, we are facing a 225% cost in insurance premiums ($35,000 to $114,000), with a deductible that increased 200% ($25,000 to $75,000)….

SB3234 SD1, HD1 and HB2686 HD1, SD1 focus on increasing the availability of condo property and hurricane insurance, not on lowering the price, although premiums may fall in a few years if there are fewer big claims and more insurers in the marketplace….

The bills do have a few detractors, including testimony that decried the proposed doubling of a special mortgage recording fee, the conveyance tax surcharge and an increase in the TAT to fund the expanded insurance coverage. Some said lawmakers should try harder to reduce costs for consumers and require more of standard insurance companies.

Read the bills and testimony at capitol.hawaii.gov/ by searching for SB3234 and HB2686….

read … Kokua Line: Can state stem condo-insurance crisis?

FAFSA Debacle may dent UH Enrollment

SA: … “We have a high school graduating class (in Hawaii) of a little over 11,000, and only 28.4% have completed a FAFSA so far, down from 48% last year, so we’re hoping that catches up,” Lassner said Thursday during his monthly report to the UH Board of Regents. The rollout of the new Free Application for Financial Student Aid, he said, “continues to be widely acknowledged as a debacle.”

The reason enrollment could be affected is that prospective college students “don’t want to make a commitment until they understand how much aid is being offered by different institutions to which they have been accepted,” Lassner told the regents.

“So this is a heads up that we don’t yet know what the impact will be on our fall 2024 enrollment, and this is true across the country. … This is a real challenge, and I just want you to have this heads up now. So you aren’t surprised if things are as bad as they might be.”

Ongoing snarls with the new form have led local organizers of the FAFSA Hawaii Hotline to extend its hours and push its end date way back, to May 31.

read … FAFSA Debacle

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