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Thursday, April 30, 2009
April 30, 2009 News Read
By Andrew Walden @ 9:33 AM :: 11275 Views

Fight Over Balancing Budget May Extend Hawaii Legislative Session Beyond May 7

Legislators, who are meeting late into the nights on the budget, are making little progress in negotiations, and that may cause them to miss their internal deadlines for bill decking and passage, and therefore extend the session. They cannot adjourn without passing a balanced budget, according to the requirements of the state constitution.

Senate members say the House is playing “hardball”- in part because of a dispute over the failed civil union legislation and other personal conflicts. While Senators want to adjourn on time, the House leadership is perfectly willing to extend, as its leadership indicted two weeks ago.

Adding to the drama is the fact that the dozens of other bills that provide for social services grants cannot be passed and funded until the budget is finalized. Likewise there are nearly 200 more bills that in some way require fiscal approval and thus they cannot be passed either. Social service providers and other beneficiaries of government programs and services keep returning to the capitol to check on their allocations, but leave without an answer.

Besides allocations to programs, services and public employees, the Senate and House disagree on funding for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, a state agency with a $300 million trust.

While House members, led by Rep. Mele Caroll, push for funding for OHA, Senate members, led by Senate Ways and Means Chair Donna Mercado Kim and Senator Clayton Hee, say OHA should use its trust funds since state general funds are tight.

Senators, who have been critical of OHA’s financial management and expenditures, also criticized OHA for giving state funds to the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation without abiding by the state procurement code. OHA is a state agency, and Senators say contracting with this group without proper procurement is illegal.

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GOP halts ads: (Media still covers up Rouse's current employment with Rida Cabanilla)

The Hawaii Republican Party was gearing up this week to continue making an example out of state Rep. Joe Bertram III with a television ad and automated phone calls to voters after the South Maui Democrat stood up for a friend convicted of trying to sexually prey on children.

But then the Republican Party, for reasons its leaders declined to explain, dropped the anti-Bertram campaign, which had quickly spread into an offensive against the Democratic Party leadership a day after the TV ad first ran. This also came at a time when the Republican governor is trying to get a budget passed in the Democrat-dominated Legislature. Hawaii Republicans - who are outnumbered 68-8 in the Legislature - are demanding that Democrats censure Bertram during the busy end days of the session, which concludes May 7.

Lee declined to explain why the Republicans suddenly backed off, but he said it is not because of any factual errors or a change of beliefs.  (Read the article above and the picture becomes clear....)

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SB: Specter's defection reveals GOP flaw

(Don't be fooled by the title, this article is aimed at the Hawaii GOP)

U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter's decision to join the Democratic Party is a severe blow to Republicans in the Senate but does not create the single-party rule that has long crippled the Hawaii Legislature....

Specter's departure from the Republican Party leaves only two moderates among its Senate ranks: Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins, both of Maine. Snowe criticized her party's leaders for failing to grasp that "political diversity makes a party stronger, and ultimately we are heading to having the smallest political tent in history."

That distinction has belonged for decades to Republicans in the Hawaii Legislature. Moderates and even conservatives have recognized that the only way to make a difference in either chamber is by joining the Democratic Party and eventually chairing a committee.  (In other words they opportunistically seek power and thereby re-enforce the one-party system--a completely different phenomenon than the moderate Spector abandoning the GOP because he was going to lose in the Primary)

The most recent to make the switch was self-described "social conservative" Sen. Mike Gabbard in 2007. A Republican now dressed in Democratic armor, Gabbard candidly declared his choice to be "a part of the majority party ... to be more effective."

As a result, the Legislature has become timid on social issues such as same-sex partnerships (Have these SB editors forgotten about HB444????) and physician-assisted suicide and robust on bread-and-butter issues following the agenda set for it by the state public-employee unions.  (Sounds like somebody has been inhaling the smoke from the Dem. Leg. caucus meetings recently.) There are no Gabbard Democrats in the U.S. Senate.  (Which, applying the SB's logic, would be the Democrat flaw--that the SB fails to note)

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Litany of Tax Hikes Soon to Land on Hawaii Governor’s Desk

  • Raising the cigarette tax from $2 to $3 per pack and the tax on smokeless tobacco products from 40% to a whopping 70%. Hawaii’s cigarette taxes have been raised 6 times in the last 7 years alone. (House Bill 1175 and House Bill 895)
  • Hiking the hotel occupancy tax from 7.25% to 9.25%. This comes even as Hawaii’s tourism industry has significantly declined. The state’s hotel occupancy rates in February dropped to 75% - the lowest level since 1991. (Senate Bill 1111)
  • Increasing the state’s top income tax rate to 12% - easily surpassing California’s 10.3% rate to become the nation’s highest. (House Bill 1747)
  • Raising the tax on sales of property and second home purchases. (House Bill 1741)

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Private property, public money (no bid leasing)

HILO -- It costs taxpayers more than $3 million a year. But unlike other purchases made by Hawaii County government, the leasing of private property doesn't have to go out to bid and the county can pay more than appraised value.
Over the past 10 years, the county has committed to or spent more than $23 million in taxpayer money to rent government facilities, with virtually nothing to show for it, according to a West Hawaii Today analysis of data provided by the county.
Many of the leases have gone to politically connected individuals and there's an additional hidden cost -- some of those landowners are also off the hook for tens of thousands of dollars in property taxes.
Multiyear leases must go before the County Council for approval. But in reality, the lack of oversight leaves the process open to waste, abuse and political payback. Prominent landowners, campaign contributors and influential families top the list of county landlords on leases that sometimes stretch over a decade.

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Hawaii County Internet abuse may go public

Initial results of Hawaii County's investigation into possible Internet abuse by county workers could be made public next month, the county's top civil attorney said Tuesday. Corporation Counsel Lincoln Ashida said he hopes information relating to employees in three departments is released in late May "because the public needs to see it with its own eyes." The investigation has focused on whether employees accessed inappropriate sites, conducted illegal activities while working or simply spent too much time surfing the Web, Ashida said.

A former county prosecutor, Ashida said his background has shown him that Internet abuse typically involves gambling or doing outside work.  (Would that include campaign work by Billy Kenoi???) Those activities, he said, would be illegal for county employees to do while at work and could justify prosecution. "I want to make clear there's no evidence of that," he said of the criminal activity, later adding, "but we're not done looking." Ashida refused to reveal if any policy violations have been identified. If any are found, he predicted 95 percent would be "just Internet abuse," like checking inappropriate sites rather than actual criminal activity. Any evidence of inappropriate, but not criminal, use will be sent to the department head to decide what action to take....

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House plan to abolish rural hospital system vanishes

Now that the state House has scrapped a widely criticized plan to put rural public hospitals back under the Department of Health, lawmakers have a better chance of crafting a last-minute compromise that helps the struggling facilities.

Health Director Chiyome Fukino described the idea as "catastrophic," and it was clear from other opposition testimony that some health care workers felt like collateral damage in a political bid to get rid of Thomas M. Driskill Jr., HHSC president and chief executive officer.

The bill, SD 1673, is now in conference committee, with a critical deadline looming tomorrow night.

Rep. Ryan I. Yamane (D-Waipahu, Mililani), chairman of the House Health Committee, said yesterday that the House would no longer seek to return the hospitals to the Department of Health, that a desire to fire Driskill never drove the aborted plan, and that the House remained committed to improving patient care and fiscal accountability.

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Hawaii on the Front Lines of the Universal Healthcare Battle

The Democratic majority party in the Hawaii State Legislature is looking for options to restore the nation’s only state universal child health care program.

While Democrats are strategically inserting $600,000 in funding for the program into a variety of legislation, making it more difficult to veto, their efforts may be moot because the governor has the option to withhold the funds.

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Hawaii swine flu: Zero cases--plenty panic

As more cases of swine flu are popping up on the Mainland, some Hawai'i physicians are getting requests from patients for prescriptions for anti-viral flu medications, Park said.

Park implored people to stay calm and follow common-sense hygiene procedures.

"Please, please, please, do not stockpile," she said. "Do not engage in personal stockpiling at home. You're doing a disservice to the community. ... Once you use it, it's gone and it's not useful to you, your family or anyone else out there. Please, please, please do not stockpile at home."

State Sen. Mike Gabbard, D-19th (Kapolei, Makakilo, Waikele) said yesterday that the state needs to put on "a full-court press" at its airports to make sure swine flu does not enter the Islands.   He wants state officials to take the temperatures of incoming passengers....

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Pilots union puts Hawaiian Air 'on notice'

The Air Line Pilots Association International's executive board has unanimously approved a $2 million grant from its major contingency fund to provide Hawaiian Airlines' pilots with the necessary resources to prepare for a possible strike, if no contract agreement can be reached with the company.

ALPA announced the grant a day after Hawaiian said it had posted a profit of $23.5 million in the first quarter.

The pilots union, which has been negotiating with Hawaiian on a contract for nearly two years, is seeking a 3 to 5 percent cost-of-living increase.

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Kapolei center put on shelf 

"I think we had about 12 major tenants left," Camp said. "Some have gone to competitors, but some were relieved and willing to wait because now is not the time for them to expand."  The project delays, while bad for developers, are good for the market, Hamasu said. "In a softening market, you don't want to get hit with more space."

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Coco Palms granted three year extension

LIHU‘E — A plan to revitalize Coco Palms avoided being killed before it began as the Kaua‘i Planning Commission approved a request for a three-year extension to various permits, Tuesday night.
The extension, which pushed the project’s targeted completion date from 2010 to 2013 despite little visible progress to the dilapidated historic hotel fronting Kuhio Highway in Wailua, marks the latest chapter in the long history of the world-famous Coco Palms. The landmark has gone uninhabited and all but untouched since Hurricane Iniki dealt the oceanfront icon a devastating blow in 1992.

(It is only natural that Hawaii gets stuck with slackers.  Serious developers are less likely to put up with all the $ociali$t eco-non$en$e here.)

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