Poinography!

January 10, 2009

Poinography December 2006 archive

Filed under: — Doug @ 2:14 pm

Poinography!

12/31/2006

The dissidents sound off

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 9:38 am
For the “must read” of today, the SB carries an op-ed from Representatives Luke and Saiki that provides an account of the House reorganization that is not flattering to Speaker Say.

On the day after the general election, Hawaii Democratic Party Chairman Mike McCartney convened a meeting with Reps. Calvin Say, Kirk Caldwell, Marcus Oshiro and us. [U.S. Senator] Inouye specifically asked that Rep. Dwight Takamine, chairman of the House Finance Committee, attend.

At the meeting, Inouye expressed his hope that the factions would resolve their differences and work together for the good of the state. He then asked Takamine to serve as a mediator and to bring the sides together to work out a compromise.

After Inouye and McCartney left the meeting, Say told the group that he intended to serve as speaker for the next eight years and would do whatever it took to retain that position. The following week, as he gathered votes, he did not respond to Takamine’s requests to meet.

Say eventually garnered the 26 votes he needed to continue as speaker. But in doing so, he and the House leadership team denied that Inouye had requested a compromise, and then ousted Takamine and other House members who had not supported them.

For eight years?! Say and his supporters face the voters every two years, of course, so to remain Speaker for eight more years is an audacious goal.

The op-ed speaks to a few things I had written earlier. According to this account, it was made quite clear to Speaker Say that Takamine was expected to attempt to mediate (i.e. Inouye did not make the huge political mistake I described). With the leak of that letter from Inouye to Takamine written after the reorganization dust had settled, and now, with the publication of this op-ed, I feel comfortable saying there is open warfare in the House majority caucus this year. Wow.

Beyond that, though, I’m trying to think about what it means for the “Democratic Machine” theory. Usually in that script Senator Inouye represents the mainstream of the Party, but here we see the “old guard” and the Party chairman summarily kicked to the curb. On the other hand, the House dissidents used to include Ed Case, who was not considered part of the “Machine” then and certainly wasn’t well-received by the Party this year when he challenged Akaka. Maybe Case was just an outlier on all counts?

Fascinating stuff. The 2007 session is probably going to see much more of this kind of drama.

Comments (13)
Caldwell seems to be letting the PUC off the hook

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 9:36 am
Another article today about the end of a GET exemption for gasoline blended with ethanol. The SB story includes these volleys from Representative Caldwell and the go-to oil industry flack:

“I do question whether the savings was passed on to the consumers,” said Caldwell. “If we extend it (the exemption), does that mean gas prices will drop by 11 cents?”

Melissa Pavlicek, a spokeswoman with the Western States Petroleum Association, an oil industry lobbying group, says there are too many factors that go into gasoline pricing to pinpoint a specific item that could single-handedly affect costs.

“It’s one of those things where it’s impossible to attribute it to any one given factor because there’s so many factors going on at the same time,” she said.

In addition to an examination of gas taxes, Caldwell said he also expects to revisit the issue of transparency to serve as a check on pricing practices.

Along with a suspension of the price caps, lawmakers last session passed regulations aimed at making more pricing data public.

“I think the people of this state are owed an explanation as to why the price of gas is as high as it is,” said Caldwell. “She (Lingle) repealed the gas cap and has taken no action since.”

Lingle’s administration has supported the transparency requirements, but has criticized the Legislature for appropriating only $1 to the Public Utilities Commission to carry out the mandate.

While Caldwell said he believes some data collection could have been accomplished with existing resources, he expects lawmakers to look at getting the PUC what it needs in 2007.

Since Caldwell was a leader of the Democrats pushing for the suspension of the gasoline price cap, I’m getting the feeling that Caldwell is in no hurry for transparency that could reveal consumers were/are being gouged for gasoline… Furthermore, whatever happened to the funds (totaling about $700,000, not $1) the PUC already has available to spend on providing transparency? Consumers should have the transparency data in a matter of weeks, not late in 2007 (which is how long you can bet the PUC will drag out the process of providing transparency if they wait for a fresh appropriation in the 2007 budget that will become law in early summer).

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12/30/2006

Sketchy landfill spending story gets weirder

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 10:51 am
More in the Advertiser today about the (new, less awkward, lingo follows) “spending impropriety” revealed yesterday.

An attorney for the alleged “improper spender” contends that Waste Management (the landfill operator fined by the State) made the allegations against the former employee to, well, I’m not sure why. Here’s how the attorney puts it:

The two have done nothing wrong and are being scapegoated to help settle a $2.8 million state fine against the Waimanalo Gulch landfill over environmental violations, charged attorney Michael Ostendorp.

———

“This is just a smokescreen for them to negotiate the fine and the noncompliance,” Ostendorp said. “It’s so they can blame the former employee, claim innocence, and say, ‘We just didn’t know.’ “

I’m trying to parse Ostendorp’s explanation, but I’m not having much luck. A former employee allegedly spent some money golfing and dining with a DOH official, and Ostendorp argues that in disclosing that spending the company hoped to exhonerate itself for a failure to run the landfill properly? According to Ostendorp, WM wants me to believe that a single “rogue” WM employee knew what was going on at the landfill and tried to improperly influence another “rogue” person at the DOH. Thus, to continue that argument, by revealing the expenditures WM demonstrates that it isn’t at fault for the problems at the landfill and therefore the fine should be reduced. [scratches head]

Ostendorp blamed penny-pinching by Waste Management for the environmental problems, which health officials say included faulty monitoring of methane gas, piling trash too high, and failing to cover it with dirt every day.

“Waste Management tried to cut their budget and made it almost impossible for anyone to comply with the requirements,” Ostendorp said.

Sadly, that scenario sounds very likely, but none of it justifies a company employee allegedly dining and golfing with the DOH official.

I honestly can’t tell if the story is poorly-written or if Ostendorp is grasping at straws, or both. I’m naturally sympathetic to the possibility of a large corporation attempting to hang a scapegoat out to dry, but this particular explanation just isn’t working for me. At least not yet.

Comments (3)
Blog summarization comes full circle

Filed under: HI State Politics, Neighbor Islands — Doug @ 10:47 am
The SB editorializes today about the ongoing saga regarding the County of Kauai trying to find a new police chief. Now, the title of this post isn’t completely fair, since blogs like mine are parasitic of the commercial media most of the time—very little of what I write is not riffing off of their work. With that disclaimer, the latest episode began here, the SB picked it up and expanded it a bit here, and today the SB brings non-blog readers fully up to speed:

According to Deputy County Attorney Rosa Flores, a one-year residency is required of candidates. But according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii, that condition is unconstitutional, at least if a broad definition of a federal judge’s ruling about another residency requirement can be applied.

Flores contends that U.S. District Judge David Ezra’s determination that a Hawaii law prohibiting nonresidents from applying for state jobs is unconstitutional did not address a subsection of the law that says appointed department heads must have residency. Further, Flores says, if the county doesn’t follow the law, it would be open to lawsuits.

To add to the confusion, Kauai previously hired a nonresident for the post, but received special clearance to do so. What that involved is unknown.

What is known is that a challenge to the subsection of the law would result in a similar ruling and that the state Legislature needs to review hiring laws to remove any such requirements.

Amending the laws would be good, but is it really necessary in this case?

The County would be “open to lawsuits.” Big deal. Unless the County waits until May for the Lege to (possibly) amend the law, a lawsuit could happen either way. Couldn’t Kauai County accept out-of-state applications and if a Hawaii resident doesn’t like it then he or she could sue the County? There are certainly more potential applicants (and lawsuits) from out-of-state than from Hawaii. Thus the question is: would Kauai County rather be open to a lawsuit that they will lose or would the County rather be open to a lawsuit that they will win? Why wait for the Lege to (possibly) give them a pre-emptive trump card when they already have something just as good? Unless County leaders would prefer having no permanent leader for their police department selected promptly, which is their prerogative…

The SB editorial goes on to comment that Kauai County has a checkered recent history with its police chiefs, and in my daily browse through the Garden Island News letters page I see that on a per-capita basis they have some extremely, uh, “vigorous” political debates. At least one reporter from GIN isn’t too pleased about it, and wrote a column (or is it a “straight news” article?) all but scolding the voters for returning the same old gang to office time after time.

Seriously, one could probably find enough grist for a blog to focus exclusively on Kauai politics, [cough] … that is, if the Council ever held an open meeting.

Comments (0)
12/29/2006

Drawn further into the web

Filed under: HI Media — Doug @ 10:43 am
After reading a very odd post at the Hawaii Reporter about popular (the author of the post would say, “populist”) mega-churches in Southern California and Chicago, I wondered “why is this relevant to anybody reading a Hawaii-focused blog?” The post is a classic example of a public doctrinal schism, where a successful contemporary sect faces the wrath of the establishment, self-declared ‘true believers.’

In the byline at the end of the post I noticed that the author is affiliated with the New Media Alliance. A link at their site shows that Hawaii Reporter is a partner with the NMA. Indeed, Hawaii Reporter has carried hundreds of posts syndicated by the NMA this year. The websites don’t make it clear, but my strong hunch is that it is connected to the Heritage Foundation.

Well, there is no denying that posting syndicated content is certainly easier than filling a blog with locally-produced content. So much for Grassroot(s). Heh.

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Improper “spending on” officials claimed

Filed under: HI State Politics, Honolulu Politics — Doug @ 10:42 am
According to an Advertiser story and a KHON report, the Attorney General is investigating allegations of bribery “spending on” directed to Department of Health officials during negotiations to settle $2.8M fine levied against the City and the company that operates the City’s landfill on the Leeward coast.

Senator Hanabusa, whose district is home to the landfill, is seeking to become a party to the negotiations “so that no problems are covered up in a possible settlement.” Unclear if that means “problems” of the bribery sort, or of the environmental sort.

Wow, what a thicket. First of all, who is Hanabusa asking to allow her to intervene? Second, on what legal grounds would/could Hanabusa be allowed to become a party to these negotiations? Senator Hanabusa does not represent the City, the company, or the Department of Health. Third, what is wrong with letting the Attorney General handle the investigation? If you think about it, Hanabusa is implying that the AG might cover up anything embarrassing he finds during an investigation. Now, maybe Hanabusa truly does not trust the AG, but that would be a much bigger can of worms.

Comments (4)
Property tax hand-wringing begins again

Filed under: Honolulu Politics — Doug @ 10:42 am
Both the Honolulu dailies report on Mayor Hannemann’s discussion of another attempt to establish lower property tax rates for owner-occupied residential properties. The City Council is still leery of the idea, and everybody mentions that affordable housing would become even more scarce. The SB editorializes on the topic:

If property valuations are to be fair, officials must figure out a better way to establish them, but the Council and the administration have been mum on this approach.

Hannemann this week resurrected a plan he says will help by setting a separate tax classification for people who live in their own homes while taxing those who rent or lease to others at a higher rate.

Maui and Hawaii counties have similar classifications. On Maui, homeowners who occupy their properties pay about half the going rate, while on Hawaii, they pay about $2.40 less per $1,000 valuation.

The Council rejected the idea last time around and seemed cool to its reintroduction, primarily because rents, already at record levels, would further rise as owners pass on the extra tax.

As the Council and the mayor attempt to balance city spending and tax rates, they should also figure a way to stabilize valuations. The unanticipated year-by-year increases do not allow residents to plan for their financial security.

Eureka! If the goal is to maintain affordable housing, then how about a system that rewards owners of affordable rental properties with a favorable property tax rate?! An approach like Proposition 109 in California, that only allows small increases in valuation until a property is resold, does nothing to promote affordable housing. The current situation in Honolulu, that makes no distinction between owner-occupied and rental property while tying valuations to recent sales in the neighborhood, does nothing to promote affordable housing either.

The “valuation” question is complicated and needs to be addressed, but it’s not impossible to resolve it in a way that protects affordable housing.

Comments (0)
No more free ride

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 10:42 am
A KHNL story and an Advertiser article provide similar facts about helicopter medical evacuation flights for civilian patients being provided by the military. However, the TV report stresses that the program will continue while the newspaper account stresses that by summer a civilian contractor will need to take over the task. I mentioned this previously in a different context.

The state has to reimburse the federal government for the Black Hawk use, and Lee said he expects each civilian emergency mission to cost about $3,500. No estimate was available for the total expected cost.

The state Legislature approved $2.3 million for the Hawai’i Guard medevac service, which was extended in July and again in September with a plan falling through last summer for another out-of-state unit to pick up the service, an official said.

Approximately 45 of the 80 soldiers from the Hawai’i Guard’s Charlie Company have stayed in a hotel on O’ahu away from families and jobs to fulfill the medical mission since April 1. The unit has five Black Hawks on O’ahu and has performed 28 medevac rescues.

———

The state reimburses the federal government about $3,500 per civilian flight. It does not have to pay for on-call time, however, for the military staff. The military flights are available from 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.

Who is paying for nine-month hotel bills and per diem expenses for 45 soldiers? So far the missions have only totaled about $100,000 (28 missions @ ~$3,500/ea) and it seems as if the State is paying that tab (do they try to recover from private insurance companies?), but if those soldiers were to stay in $100/night hotel rooms it would cost over $1.2M to house 45 troops for nine months. Furthermore, what happens when a crash happens during the other half of each day? How many people needed an airlift but were unable to get one?

At a news conference yesterday, Maj. Gen. William Brandenburg, the deputy commander of U.S. Army, Pacific, said a civilian helicopter contract will be sought for military training and civilian medevac needs.

“The bottom line is, we’ve got to come up with a solution here for both the active duty (Army), the National Guard, the Marines and the state of Hawai’i for the long term,” Brandenburg said.

Interesting that medical evacuation during military training may now be joining the myriad of other tasks formerly performed by the military in-house (police, food service, etc.) that are increasingly being contracted out to civilians. Can you say, “Halliburton?” Of course, if America withdraws from Iraq, there would be no need for National Guard units to be deployed outside of their communities for extended periods…

Comments (1)
12/28/2006

Johnson stirs the reorganization process pot

Filed under: Neighbor Islands — Doug @ 10:18 am
Maui County Councilmember JoAnne Johnson submitted an op-ed to the Maui News where she argues for a more open process of establishing Council leadership. However, it sounds so reasonable, that there is no way it will ever (or at least never voluntarily) become the norm. She writes:

In my first term on the council I was able to convey to the members that some attention should be paid to at least getting the basics of why I should support a particular member for a leadership slot. I know it rankled some of the senior members, but they did agree to at least suspend the rules of the council and discuss the qualifications of particular candidates and we were able to ask questions of members.

I still believe that this overlooked method of selecting the leadership of the council should be discussed in a more open and transparent public forum.

The council has always exercised the right to ask questions of our nominees for boards and commissions. We have even asked applicants to outline their reasons for seeking a particular nomination or to discuss their qualifications in carrying out their duties on the public?s behalf. This is a fair and open way to determine whether the persons applying for positions are capable of discharging the duties they will be required to perform. We have even disqualified some applicants based on their feedback and asked them to apply for other boards or commissions.

This practice is something that I believe has merit and it could help enlighten new members, and even some returning members, about the educational or work background of their fellow members. While I guess it is possible for me to ask members individually about these questions, I believe it is also helpful for the public to understand the wide variety of ?resources? that their sitting council members possess. Sharing our thoughts and our collective talents with one another is a positive and constructive team-building effort and can be a useful step in moving forward with many of the public initiatives.

——–

I believe we are up to the challenge and I urge both the new and returning members of the council to support a fresh and innovative approach to our organizational meeting. For me, it is not so much a question of who leads the council, since we have many capable people, but about the actual process of making that determination.

[Cough]

Johnson neglects to mention that she herself is looking to challenge Councilmember Hokama for the Chair. It’s easy to infer that Johnson thinks that, if there were an open discussion of their qualifications for the post, then she might/should prevail over Hokama.

A much more interesting op-ed would be for one of the “senior members” to defend the secretive reorganization process. Heh.

Comments (2)
Circulation to increase by 2,163 at a cost of >$50K/year

Filed under: Honolulu Politics, HI Media — Doug @ 10:15 am
The SB reports (and the PBN has a story, too) that all 103 express buses on Oahu will now carry a free copy of their paper for the driver and 20 copies for the passengers. As luck would have it, I am planning to start riding the express bus again soon, but I plan on using my transit time for an extra 30-minutes of napping.

Apparently the SB was the only bidder, as the Advertiser previously participated in a pilot program to give away papers and did not bid this time. In addition to giving away the free newspapers, the SB has also agreed to buy $50,000 in advertising (I’m assuming these ads will be in the form of placards inside the buses).

Personally, I would have rather seen them invest the $50,000 in their web presence. How about some blogs, for instance? The Advertiser is making steady progress in that arena. Maybe the SB will go that route (pun intended) after its bus giveaway experiment ends, too. The fact that the Advertiser did not even submit a bid this time suggests that it wasn’t a success for them, but perhaps the SB will measure success differently.

Comments (0)
12/27/2006

Marshall bumps Dela Cruz aside

Filed under: Honolulu Politics — Doug @ 10:03 am
Well, they wasted no time. The first working day after the big transit vote, a resolution (PDF) to reorganize the Honolulu City Council was filed. The SB has a story with comments from outgoing Chair Donovan Dela Cruz.

Dela Cruz said he is proud of his record of making the City Council more “transparent,” including putting all Council documents online, making Councilmembers responsible for their own office budgets and making their spending available online.

“I’m honored to have been elected the Council chairman for a period longer than three years,” Dela Cruz said. “I hope that I will be one of the folks to make sure that the legislative branch remains independent and not a rubber stamp for the administration.”

Besides Apo and Garcia, Marshall is also expected to align herself with members Rod Tam and Gary Okino to form the majority of the nine-member Council. All four Councilmen are seen as friendly with Mayor Mufi Hannemann. Marshall, however, is known for her tough questioning of administration officials, especially when it comes to budgetary matters.

By the way, can anybody decipher that messy sixth signature on the resolution? Is it Cachola, Dela Cruz(?!), Djou, or Kobayashi?

Comments (1)
ACLU objects to “residents only” KPD hiring

Filed under: Neighbor Islands — Doug @ 10:02 am
The SB seems to have scooped the Kauai newspapers with a story about the ACLU challenging a decision by the Kauai County attorney to limit the search for a new police chief to applicants who are state residents. This follows up on a previous post. In fact, it follows up on my previous post almost verbatim, haha.

Deputy County Attorney Rosa Flores said the commission must follow state law, which requires that all appointed department heads be residents of the state for at least one year.

But the decision flies in the face of a June federal court ruling that found a Hawaii law that limited state and county jobs to state residents was unconstitutional, said Lois Perrin, legal director for the Hawaii branch of the ACLU.

“We are gravely concerned that they are requiring (residency), and we intend to look into it further,” Perrin said recently.

Perrin did say that the county attorney’s decision is technically true. The federal court decision declared Hawaii Revised Statute 78-1(c), regarding a state and county employee, unconstitutional. But there is a different subsection for department heads; in HRS 78-1 (b), the law requires that a department head be a resident for a year.

“However, that doesn’t mean it’s constitutional,” Perrin said, adding that the state Legislature already had removed residency restrictions on police officers in 2002 because of a shortage of applicants.

The SB article does go on to add this new wrinkle, however:

Flores said, however, that the county could be subject to lawsuits if it does not follow state law as written.

“There is nothing else we could do,” Flores said. “The law speaks for itself. We could get sued if we don’t follow HRS as it stands.”

She added that the county had to receive special clearance to hire Freitas.

Okay, I can at least follow the logic of what Flores is saying, but if that is true then some explanation of the “special clearance” to hire (non-resident) Freitas seems to be in order. Who (erroneously, if you take Flores at her word) granted the County that clearance?

Comments (0)
Petroleum companies attempt a bit of innoculation

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 10:02 am
The Advertiser runs a letter to the editors today from Melissa Pavlicek, lobbyist for a petroleum industry group. I should have seen this coming…

While it is impossible to predict what effect the restored tax will have on retail prices of gasoline, it is clear that state and federal taxes make up a significant portion of the price consumers pay for gasoline.

It’s well documented that Hawai’i gasoline prices are higher than Mainland prices. Numerous authoritative sources, including consultants, economists and analysts, have identified contributors to this phenomena: the state’s distance from the sources of crude oil and other petroleum products, the small size of the market and, of course, the state’s high taxes.

Talk is cheap. She and the “consultants, economists and analysts” had better figure out a way to quantify those factors, because eventually consumers may be able to judge if another major “contributor” to higher gasoline prices is excessive profit margins.

Comments (1)
Spinmeister changing of the guard

Filed under: HI State Politics, HI Media — Doug @ 10:02 am
I notiiced a Garden Island News article announcing that Senator Daniel Akaka will have a new press secretary. Meanwhile, in the Advertiser they note that UH-Manoa will also have a new spokesperson.

Akaka’s new hire, Jesse Broder Van Dyke is from KHON. Outgoing Donalyn Dela Cruz will join a Honolulu “marketing and communications” firm.

At UH-Manoa their long-time director of communication Jim Manke will be cutting back to a part-time status and medical school spokesman Gregg Takayama will pick up the slack while a search is conducted for someone to replace Manke.

UPDATED: To correct boneheaded Akaka-Inouye transposition.

Comments (0)
12/26/2006

Revelations of 2007 agenda begin

Filed under: HI State Politics, Honolulu Politics — Doug @ 9:59 am
I noticed a Hawaii Reporter post about an upcoming conference where, among other things, Cliff Slater will speak about how the fixed-guideway transit system can be stopped.

Sponsors of the Conference to date include: (Gold) Kaiser Permanente, ALTRES, Inc. (Silver) JS Services. (Bronze) Hartmann Metal Corp. Peterson Sign Co., KSSK Radio, Techniques Hawaii. (Green) Gyotaku Japanese Restaurant, Summerlin Insurance, Production Hawaii and HawaiiReporter.

Some of the highlights of the conference:

Cliff Slater will share strategies aimed at derailing the $6 billion mass transit tax train.

State Labor Director Nelson Befitel will outline the Administration’s legislative plans for business during 2007. City Deputy Prosecutor Chris Van-Marter and State DCCA Director Mark Recktenwald, will discuss business and identity theft.

There will be a legislative panel headed by new Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, Sen. Carol Fukunaga and Rep. Gene Ward giving you a preview of the 2007 Legislative Session and its impact on small business, starting on Wednesday, January 17.

For my part, I hope the media will attend and report what Slater, Befitel, Hanabusa, Fukunaga, and Ward have to say. However, I’m not too interested in whatshisname’s ‘World Famous’ keynote address. Heh.

Also, please take note of Slater’s appearance in the comments [sorry - broken link now fixed!] responding to my previous post about what comes next in the Oahu transit saga. I’m hoping he returns.

Comments (1)
12/25/2006

How Congress appropriates vs. how the Hawaii Legislature appropriates

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 8:15 am
META: See how festive I am feeling today?! I wrote this lenghty post to warm your wonky little hearts. Enjoy.

A recent post at the LRB First Reading blog tipped me to this useful primer (PDF) describing how Congress makes appropriations. This led me to wonder if a similar publication existed to describe the process at our State legislature.

The LRB has a fairly extensive array of useful Manuals, Handbooks, Guides, Publications, and Notes, but I did not find among them anything that describes how money is appropriated in Hawaii. I know that they read this blog, so if they would be so kind as to tip me to a publication (preferably one available online) that would be great. In the meantime, I’ll do my best to describe the process as I know it, stressing that appropriations is not an area of expertise for me and I have never worked closely with or followed the actions of the Finance Committee as the budget is being crafted (I prefer to arrive at work in the dark, and I happen to like going home well before it’s dark again, thank you).

Almost everything the three branches of State government does costs money. The Hawaii Constitution requires that the Governor submit a budget to the Legislature for its review. In odd-numbered years the Governor, via the Department of Budget and Finance, submits a budget covering two year fiscal years. In the even-numbered years a “supplemental” budget is submitted with proposed amendments to the second year of that plan. In my experience, even if you were to read this document in its entirety (the paper version is often five cumbersome and garishly colored volumes), you really would not know in much detail where the money is being spent nor the specific funding changes being proposed. It deals with program-level appropriations which means, for example, the operating expenses for each prison are listed in one lump sum with no obvious way to tell how much of the sum is for salaries, how much is for food service, how much is for maintenance, etc.

Late in the session documents known as the budget worksheets emerge for public review and those documents delve into much more detail. Good luck interpreting them, though. Even there, the focus is on adjustments being made to the “base” budget (i.e. the status quo). Where one would find all of that baseline information without proposed adjustments, I have no idea.

That’s just a part of the fun, however. Every legislator typically introduces a bill for capital improvements to the schools and other infrastructure in his or her district. This is in addition to any number of pet worthy projects that are introduced by the legislator(s) as bills that include appropriations language. If an idea is going to require taxpayer money, then it needs to have a piece of legislation to make the appropriation. Likewise, the governor submits her own package of legislation, including many bills that contain appropriations language.

Usually after a referral to a subject-matter committee, all of the bills with appropriation language are also given a referral to a “money committee”(Finance Committee in the House of Representatives, Ways and Means Committee in the Senate). Typically during the Committee hearings the appropriations in each bill are reduced to a token amount or are even zeroed out. This is because the appropriations bills are held in limbo until the larger budget bills are resolved. Both committees have a cadre of experienced staff who do the bulk of the research that guides the decisionmaking on the budget bill. The budget bill has a public hearing in each chamber, but since the scope of the bill is so broad the testimony is typically a parade of people groveling advocating on behalf of their particular piece of the pie. It would be nearly impossible for any single person to truly become familiar with the entire budget. Unlike other bills, where a committee report reliably provides an accurate account of what amendments have been made, the committee reports on the budget are written in a mostly narrative style—albeit with some lump sums mentioned and a token project talked up here and there. Each amendment made to the Governor’s budget (or, in the Senate, to the House’s budget) is not necessarily described in detail. The “baseline” budget? Not mentioned in any detail. I’m not trying to badmouth the process or these reports, as they do serve to “define” policy directions, but rather to suggest that those who bemoan legislators for every instance of waste encountered in their interactions with government are typically ignorant of how little of the “nuts and bolts” the legislators are actually taking under review. When a glaring problem arises (not enough textbooks, or classrooms that are too hot, for example) then the legislators can take specific action, but those types of budget minutiae are the exceptions to the norm.

Once the budget conference meetings are complete, then there is some balance of money available (don’t ask me how they determine the amount) for funding the various bills, and during the last frantic day(s) of Conference meetings the legislators feverishly hammer out which of the remaining bills will be funded. The “winners” will have the placeholder/zero amount replaced with an actual appropriation, the rest of the bills will die (or, in a handufl of cases, the appropriations language will be removed and the bill passed as an unfunded mandate).

In addition to the resolving the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial budgets and the various bills, the two legislative money committees also allocate grants in aid (for which the application and approval process is pretty much a dark art), haggle over captial improvements, and sometimes tuck the appropriations language from certain bills into the larger budget bills as “provisos” instead of leaving them to be funded via their own separate bills. In the House the consideration of the CIP and GIA spending is farmed out to senior members of the Finance Committeee (in past years, for example, to Representatives Nakasone and Magaoay, respectively). I assume Ways and Means does the same in the Senate for GIA, and Senator Tsutsui is their goto CIP person.

After all of this work, the budget is sent to the Governor for (what else?) her to execute. However, money appropriated by the Legislature is not always expended by the Governor as put forth in the budget. The Governor has a line-item veto in the Executive budget. Othertimes the Executive branch does not “release” the money to be spent, or the Executive branch releases an amount less than what was allocated by the Legislature, or the bonds authorized by the Legislature are not sold, etc. The balance of appropriations not vetoed that are not spent in full are said to “lapse.” The Constitutional or statutorial basis of the power to allow funds to lapse is not clear to me, (it sure seems like when a bill becomes a law and it says “the funds shall be expended by Department XYZ,” that there would be no discretion involved), but maybe those powers are inferred and not explicitly granted. ??

Clear as mud, I know. I’m open to any and all suggestions for correction, clarification and expansion. I’m sure you folks have nothing better to do today, right? Heh.

Comments (5)
12/24/2006

Onward to the next big decisions about transit and development

Filed under: Honolulu Politics — Doug @ 9:38 am
After Friday’s big vote, the Advertiser has a very interesting article about the implications for development along the transit corridor:

“It’s going to be the next big thing, the next big issue,” said Councilman Gary Okino, a lifelong urban planner who has advocated rail development in Ho-nolulu for more than 40 years. “How will we regulate this? Can we come up with interim controls? How long will it take to get final rules ready? How do we do the zoning? Those are the things to watch for now.”

Okino said the City Council is already considering a three-month moratorium on most developments around planned transit stations to guard against possible land grabs and quick low-rise developments built to capitalize on transit’s potential. “We have to watch out for investors out there with not too much capital who want to turn a quick buck,” he said.

I don’t think developers are going to be diving right in. Why would they, with the federal funding question still far from being resolved? I appreciate Okino’s caution, but I think he’s far too optimistic. However, the various landowners along the route might prove me wrong. Some comment from those folks would make for a good follow-up story.

Another Adveriser piece concludes with these thoughts from a homeless gentleman;

Kaleo Bush, a carpenter who lives on the beach, said transit might make life more convenient for homeless folks to get around the Island in the short term. But in the long run, he said it probably wouldn’t really matter.

“In another five, 10 years from now there’s going to be even more people living on the beach, because of the high cost of living,” said Bush, 34. “There won’t be houses, there will just be all homeless shelters.”

Whether or not people get around via transit will be the least of government’s problems, he said.

Ooof. Perhaps there will be “transit oriented” homeless shelters? Nah, after a few more civil rights violations, Mayor Hannemann will no doubt succeed in compelling the State to solve the homeless issue. [cough]

Meanwhile, in the SB story Cliff Slater is quoted again saying that he prefers a fixed guideway system using technology other than rail. Predictably, given Slater’s cult of personality among the group, the response at honolulutraffic.com is that they are pleased that “rail” is not mentioned in the final draft of Bill 79 passed by the Council on Friday. I remain baffled as to what makes them consider a rubber-tired system an improvement over rail, since most of the criticism they level against rail would seem to apply equally to any type of ‘get commuters out of their personal cars’ technology.

Cliff Slater, a longtime opponent of a rail system, said he was still “quite pleased” with the decision to remove rail from the wording of the law.

“We’re much better off at the moment than we thought we were gonna be at the beginning of the month,” Slater said yesterday, adding he will continue to lobby for the regional bus rapid transit system, and against rail.

“Most independent businessmen in town all oppose it,” he said. “We spend our lives looking for benefits to ourselves and the community, and this is not one of them.”

“…and the community.” Right… Color me skeptical.

Slater’s hui also points out that there is still plenty of opportunity for the idea to fail:

Scoping has yet to be done, The Draft Environmental Impact Statement has to be drafted, public hearings held, and comments taken and addressed. The FTA has to approve the City’s projections in the DEIS, assumedly there will be an SDEIS and hearings, then RFPs will be issued, etc, etc, etc, all leading up to an FTA Record of Decision (ROD). Our altert readers may remember that at the end of the multi-year BRT process, the FTA withdrew their ROD and that was the end of that folly. The 1992 effort ended six months after the Final EIS had been issued.

Funny how those who typically cheerlead the “free market” against environmentalists and “the politics of no” are now eager to turn the tables and fully exercise the prolonged bureaucracy and EIS processes when it suits them, yeah?

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Hokama favored to retain Maui County Council chair

Filed under: Neighbor Islands — Doug @ 9:38 am
The Maui News reports that there is rather low-key (or maybe low-profile is more accurate) reorganization process underway at the Maui County Council. There are two new members that are providing the opportunity for the whole council to juggle positions, but the article does not anticipate any specific changes.

[Councilmember] Johnson said she wanted [to challenge Hokama for] the chairmanship because she felt the council was lacking a ?clear direction.? She wanted to see council members caucus more often to discuss and agree on priorities.

?We have always adopted the shotgun approach,? she said. ?A lot of key things are not being dealt with.?

Councils in the past held ?chairs meetings? where the chairs of council committees met with the council chairman to discuss priorities and scheduling, she said. The meetings were discontinued during Hokama?s term.

I’m assuming those were serial, one-on-one meetings, because I don’t think a “caucus” of all the chairs could pass Sunshine Law scrutiny. I haven’t committed the members or the Council history to memory, so I’m not sure how long a typical reorganization endures on Maui. Is it as tumultuous as Honolulu, with leadership coups attempted or carried out once or twice every year?

Comments (1)
12/23/2006

No scolding for willful obfuscation

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 9:25 am
Take a look at the SB editorial today that tries to minimize the fact that Governor Lingle was too embarrassed about firing Rod Haraga to be honest about her decision in a press conference this week.

Lingle’s announcement that Transportation Director Rod Haraga and Labor Director Nelson Befitel would leaving their jobs appeared to be a routine event.

Even the reason for their exit — to pursue other opportunities — was standard in government circles.

But it turned out that Haraga didn’t so much as quit as he was shown the door.

Before taking a vacation to Japan earlier this month, Haraga said Lingle told him she was considering him for reappointment, but when he returned, she had changed her mind.

This, of course, is the governor’s prerogative, which Haraga duly acknowledged.

Sure, but is it the Governor’s prerogative to lie about her decision, too?!

To make the editorial even more bizarre, it goes on to chastise Senator English, who reportedly doesn’t care for Haraga’s media presence—almost as if to suggest that English’s discomfiture with Haraga’s media-friendly style is an explanation for why Governor Lingle decided to fire him. As I wrote before, Haraga’s style made Lingle appear to be less relevant. “Mirror, mirror, on the wall,” and such…

The most ridiculous part of this whole episode is that Lingle evidently thought (knew?) she would get away with this fib. As if the uber chatty Mr. Haraga would step back and take this one for “the team.” There is no sense in sugar-coating the fact that someone is being fired. It could be embarrassing to the Governor for a brief moment, but in a short while the media would move on. Lying about the decision to fire him, as we heard in Lingle invoking the time-honored-but-false “he decided to move on” story, might save some face, but only if Haraga knows the script in advance and has good reason to agree to play his role. So, unless Haraga double-crossed Lingle, for Lingle to advance this lie without confirming Haraga would comply was, well, really stupid. …or so one might have thought.

The media were all a-twitter when Lingle snuck off to Iraq and her spokesperson Russel Pang did not admit to anyone that she had left, but evidently if the lies emerge directly from Lingle’s mouth she gets a pass? Go figure.

UPDATE: After finishing this post, I just read this passage in a recent Eric Alterman column that sums it up quite well:

The press claims all kinds of special privileges for itself–legal, financial and ethical–based almost exclusively on its constitutionally protected role as the watchdog of the rulers for the ruled. Democratic theory requires that citizens choose their leaders on the basis of true information about their preferences and performances, and the very raison d’?tre of the political press is to provide it. But if those leaders are free to lie–and the press plays along with those lies–then democracy itself is undermined.

Let us hope that if the next lie concerns a more weighty subject then our media will not let it pass.

Comments (5)
Bill of Rights Day menaces Maui

Filed under: HI Media, Neighbor Islands — Doug @ 9:25 am
While discouraging, I got a chuckle from this Maui Time Weekly account of Bill of Rights Day, which is/was celebrated (to be generous) on December 15th:

I was only a day or two into my work as temporary Maui Time calendar editor when I noticed the ACLU press release for Bill of Rights Day. Scheduled for Friday Dec. 15, it was part of a nationwide effort to celebrate the 215th anniversary of Bill of Rights.

I see the Bill of Rights as an important part of our heritage and culture?especially given the Bush Administration?s love for power and war. It?s what protects us against big government. Who doesn?t like the Bill of Rights? Who doesn?t enjoy our nation?s right to a trial by jury, prohibition against unlawful search and seizure as well as cruel and unusual punishment, freedom of religion, expression, press and, yes, even the right to bear arms? More importantly, who doesn?t want their own free copy?

The release said that on Friday ACLU activists would hand out copies of the Bill of Rights throughout the state, including Wailuku.

——–

Still naive about the whole thing, I half expected to find people happy to get a free copy of the Bill of Rights. Yet out of the 40 or so people I accosted that day, just a few seemed actually excited about it.

?Oh yeah! The Bill of Rights,? one man said.

Of the rest, most seemed to feel sorry for Best and I. It was as though they didn?t care what we were there to do, but didn?t want to say no when we handed them our pamphlet. A few people started reading it immediately, but most just seemed to glance around for the nearest trash can. At least a dozen actually started to run away when I approached them.

Well, maybe he should consider himself lucky that he did not try to pass out the fliers on the grounds of Honolulu Hale, where he might have been unexpectedly arrested—only as part of Mayor Hannemann’s ingenius plot to compel the State to address the homeless issue, of course…

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Locally preferred alternative alternatives [sic] approved

Filed under: Honolulu Politics — Doug @ 9:24 am
Not so sure if it’s gonna be a rail system or a rubber-tired system, but it will be on a “fixed guideway.” Not so sure if it will serve the airport or if it will pass through the condos at Salt Lake. Not so sure how much of the system can be built in the first phase and how much it will cost. But, whatever it is, the Honolulu Council voted in favor of it yesterday. That’s the gist of the stories in the Advertiser and SB.

I never really doubted that this vote would fail. That said, I have a lot of doubts of whether I’ll ever witness this fixed guideway. If it does go forward, then I think the biggest winners will be people who probably did not even testify yesterday, i.e. those people who will eventually occupy the transit-oriented development and will be able to walk to the transit station and be delivered directly to where they work, shop, and play. I’d consider moving to town, living in a high-rise and giving up commuting in my personal vehicle for that lifestyle.

The stories are interesting in the details they provide of the day-long hearing, especially the account of the demise of a last minute effort by Councilmember Kobayashi to re-adjust the route one last time. The public testimony from the Ewa/Kapolei area must have been intense!

…So, does the Council now move on to reorganization, or not? Hmmm.

Comments (3)
12/22/2006

Troops facing long separation from families across an ocean

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 9:58 am
You may have heard the debate about sending troops between Hawaii and Alaska to serve a crucial mission and how the situation was brought on by the poor planning of people higher up the chain of command. Well, today in the Advertiser we read how the families of some troops have been separated for almost 9 months as part of an elaborate juggling act to execute a crucial mission that fell through the cracks in the rush to war. The difference in this story, however, is that Army generals in Hawaii and Senator Inouye are not fomenting on the op-ed pages about these lengthy family separations—because the troops have been coming to Hawaii from Alaska.

Okay, enough snark, I think you see the parallel to the Stryker Brigade that I’m drawing. The medical evacuation helicopter service on Oahu is being provided by Hawaii National Guard helicopters from the Big Island. In turn, the mission the Guardsmen were originally tasked with is being filled by Army troops and equipment from Alaska. This has been going on since April 1, 2006.

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Economists and tax geeks speak about refunds

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 9:56 am
An Advertiser story begins to sketch out the debate over how the Governor and Legislature may propose to balance a constitutionally-mandated tax refund and other uses of the revenue surplus. Lowell Kalapa of the Tax Foundation recommends offsetting the GET surcharge for transit by lowering the base GET rate. Carl Bonham of UH refers to a brand new Tax Commission report (PDF), where it suggests (what else?) more studies. I am on vacation (and I’m pathetic, haha), so I had time to browse the report:

Based on the results, we believe Hawaii’s tax system is basically sound. It provides a relatively stable stream of revenue that tends to grow automatically at a rate slightly greater than the growth of personal income. Overall, the actions of the Legislature have tended to curb the growth in tax revenues, mostly through changes in the provisions of the Individual Income Tax, bringing revenues into closer alignment with the growth in personal income.

——–

At a “big picture” level, the Commission is satisfied with the current structure and administration of the GET and we have no major changes to recommend. We believe that the GET is a relatively efficient tax and this efficiency can be maintained as long as exemptions are kept to a minimum. In fact, we believe it is a strong contender for the title as the most efficient substantial tax levied by any state. The GET’s chief advantage is that it is applied to a large base, so it can generate a large amount of revenue at a low tax rate. Hawaii’s GET has the broadest base of any state sales tax and is tied with several other state sales taxes for the lowest tax rate.

The strangest part of the article is this demonstrably false comment :

First Hawaiian Bank consultant Leroy Laney said Hawai’i is one of the few states with both a sales tax and a general excise tax. “We have a reputation for being overtaxed, but it looks like in a lot of ways, taxes are going up, not down,” he said.

Wha? Hawaii has no sales tax! Why the Advertiser’s reporter or an editor didn’t notice and clarify that error, I have no idea.

From the introduction to the report:

It is difficult to design tax policy to meet goals of equity and efficiency, because these goals often conflict. Nevertheless, past Tax Review Commissions were able to come up with many good recommendations. Unfortunately, much of their advice has not been implemented, because elected officials generally weigh the dictates of sound tax policy against other political objectives, including those of organized groups with well-defined goals and strong opinions. This report gives policy officials our views on what constitutes sound tax policy. We hope it will provide a background theme that can be played as political decisions on taxes are made.

A background theme? It’s well done so far as it goes, but the report is hardly a toe-tapping page-turner. If you make it to page 5 your probably have read more of it than most politicians… So, it’s a good thing that the Commission put the part about “groups with well-defined goals and strong opinions” up front.

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12/21/2006

Microchip your pet!

Filed under: General — Doug @ 10:59 am
Consider this my public service announcement of the week. I almost can’t believe that this heartwarming Advertiser story failed to mention it. If the owners of this stolen dog had implanted a (cheap) identity microchip, then the people who found the dog wandering in Waiahole valley would have been able to return the dog without so much drama.

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Haraga returns from vaction to a pink slip, Lingle says it’s what Haraga decided

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 10:59 am
It’s pretty rare for the Hawaii media to openly expose the Governor as a liar, but it happened today. The reports in the Advertiser, SB, KGMB, KHNL, KHON, and KITV (video only) all indicate that Transportation Director Haraga wanted to stay for another term but was fired by Lingle. Her version:

Lingle says, “Both Directors (Nelson) Befitel and (Rod) Haraga have made a decision to go on and pursue other avenues. I wish them both well. They left on good terms. They both are on good terms with me.”

Haraga’s version:

Haraga headed the Department of Transportation. He says Lingle told him she would reappoint him in early December, then changed her mind when he was on vacation in mid-December. He returned to Hawaii Sunday December 17 and was informed Monday the 18th. Says Haraga, “She changed her mind and had reconsidered and said I wouldn’t fit into the plans of her administration. Coming back first thing Monday to hear, ‘You haven’t been reappointed,’ was disappointing for me.”

Haraga is considering private and public jobs. “Even political aspirations may be part of the journey.” Haraga’s last day is January 4.

Meanwhile, the Pacific Business News, perhaps not in attendance at the press conference(?), regurgitates the Governor’s press release without including Haraga’s version of events.

The public is in for a significant switch in personality types in the change from Rod Haraga to Barry Fukunaga (should Fukunaga be confirmed). Fukunaga is not nearly as “slick” of a public figure as Haraga. Based upon a few years of observing him at legislative hearings, I predict Fukunaga to be frustratingly cryptic and to doggedly stick to administration talking points. Haraga was perhaps too willing to expound on topics that were not always flattering to the administration. Superferry opponents should expect a shift from Haraga’s affable co-optation to Fukunaga’s stonewalling. A weeekly talk radio show for Fukunaga? I doubt it.

The revelation that Haraga may have political ambitions of his own does not surprise me, and it’s not too hard to imagine that Lingle is doing her own version of “banging down the nail that sticks up” so that Haraga will not have an opportunity to further groom his image and possibly stub her toes (or Aiona’s?) in the future.

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Another attempt to reorganize the Honolulu Council

Filed under: Honolulu Politics — Doug @ 10:59 am
The SB reports that following the conclusion of the transit debate there may be another attempt to oust Council Chair Dela Cruz. It would involve the same Councilmembers as the effort in May 2006, and would have the four supporting Councilmember Marshall as the Chair.

Reasons cited for the current talk of leadership changes include the sometimes bumpy process in the Council’s selection of a mass transit system and route. But one councilmember also cited the “ongoing battle” between Mayor Mufi Hannemann and Dela Cruz. Some councilmembers said Dela Cruz survived an attempt to remove him as leader of the Council earlier this year, an effort apparently led by the mayor.

“I think Donovan has done a great job in administering the chair’s position, but unfortunately I think this battle between him and the mayor has clearly caused some distraction,” Apo said.

Okino said, “I think that’s part of it, but I think it’s many things,” pointing to last week’s 15-hour Transportation Committee meeting that led to what he thought were not the right decisions.

“There are times when you are going to agree, and there are times when you are going to disagree but it’s important to insure that a system of checks and balances is in place,” Dela Cruz said.

Hmmm. If Dela Cruz were to suport the Mayor’s route for the transit system in the vote tomorrow, would that defuse the situation? I have no clue, there are too many shivs hidden in that small cellblock across Punchbowl Street.

The article also says Councilmember Djou (who currently chairs a committee) is “on the fence” regarding a reorganization. Maybe Djou should ask Representative Takamine about the wisdom of that stance… Heh.

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Kona and South Kohala moratorium on re-zoning is a mystery

Filed under: Neighbor Islands — Doug @ 10:59 am
The Hawaii County papers have a story about a “pause” in re-zoning of land in the Kona and South Kohala areas. (The West Hawaii Today article is here, and the Hawaii Tribune-Herald version is here) As the articles point out, there is little difference between this and a “moratorium” except that the direct impact on development takes effect further in the future rather than immediately.

Rather than pass an ordinance, the Council passed a resolution. Which, in my opinion, was a strange decision because:

But Planning Director Chris Yuen said that as long as there were some time frame attached to the proposal, it was likely legal. Corporation Counsel Bobby Jean Leithead-Todd said a building moratorium in Lake Tahoe, Calif., lasted for 20 years before the measure was even unsuccessfully challenged in court.

While Yuen said he was neither for nor against the proposal, he said the Planning Department and the Planning Commission are bound by law to keep processing rezoning applications.

Yuen said the only way to stop the applications from being examined by the administration is to pass a law [i.e. ordinance] forbidding such actions. He said it would also need a definite end to be legal.

The resolution (PDF) that passed first reading has a sunset date of April 1, 2007. While I do agree that a resolution is not enough to set aside the current zoning ordinances and thereby stop Yuen from processing applications, I don’t know the basis of Yuen’s claim that the lack of a sunset date would make a re-zoning moratorium “illegal.” Some better reporting is needed on this question.

Also, I am not familiar with the rezoning processs in Hawaii County. Is it truly an exclusively Executive Branch function, or does the Council need to vote on every re-zoning application approved by the Executive Branch? i.e. If the Council already has the power to stop re-zoning, then why don’t they simply pledge to exercise it? They woud not be the first legislative body to pass a meaningless resolution purporting to restrain themselves for public relations effect, but it’s still annoying.

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Soft-pedal the press release or scuttle the settlement

Filed under: Honolulu Politics — Doug @ 10:58 am
While reading this AP story in the Advertiser about a legal settlement that fell apart because one side issued a press release containing phrasing objectionable to the other side, it struck me that maybe this could explain why the ACLU went along with Mayor Hannemann’s administration in their triumphant admission of non-error (irony intended). In the AP story the players are Global Horizons (provider of immigrant laborers) and the US Department of Labor.

The original Labor Department news release issued in May said Global Horizons had been “ordered” to pay back wages and fines. It also noted Orian owns the company, though it did not say he was responsible for any wrongdoing.

Orian said including his name violated terms of the agreement. And he said using the term “ordered” rather than “agreed” was misleading and made it appear a judge had issued a decision.

If the ACLU and the City reached an equally detailed agreement beforehand, then it’s possible that the ACLU had no choice but to co-sign the rah-rah press release. I’d rather see the ACLU continue litigation than accept this hollow “settlement” non-victory. Sigh. But, what do I know? I’m no lawyer…

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12/20/2006

A leftover runny omelette

Filed under: Honolulu Politics, HI Media — Doug @ 8:59 am
Better late than never, but today David Shapiro’s column makes basically the same point that I made last Friday after it was announced that the ACLU had won a settlement against the City regarding two homeless advocates who had been arrested for refusing to leave Honolulu Hale.

Shapiro puts it like this:

But in a joint statement with the ACLU announcing the settlement, the city was so lacking in contrition and so full of self-congratulation that you would have thought Mayor Hannemann had been handed an award for service to the homeless instead of a costly rebuke.

Most disappointing is that the ACLU let the administration get away with such blatant sugar-coating after fighting the case this far.

Incidentally, the press release in question is still not online with the rest of the Hannemann administration’s chest-thumping. It is available on the ACLU website, however.

Here’s hoping the ACLU never allows themselves to be played by the City like this again.

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Ian in the House

Filed under: General, HI State Politics — Doug @ 8:59 am
While Ian Lind is sorry to hear of my impending return to school, I am pleased to know that Lind will be working as a session worker again in 2007. He writes:

I will be returning for another year, although last time around I tried to separate my staff work from this blog. I haven’t quite figured out what my approach will be this year, although that perhaps gives the misimpression that I plan out any of this ahead of time. But with the continuing tension between factions in the House, though, it’s going to be hard not to attend to the political dynamics of the session and their effects on policy decisions.

Yeah, you had to go and remind me of what I’ll be missing… [sniff]

Well, Ian, if there’s anything too hot for you to dish out on your blog, you know who to call!

SIDEBAR: The good news is that before my new gig starts I am burning up my accrued vacation hours for the next few weeks. As a result, the entirety of my agenda today is simply buying a few textbooks!

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GET will once again apply to gasoline

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 8:56 am
The Advertiser reports that a law that went into effect in April which exempted the GET from gasoline mixed with ethanol will expire at the end of 2006.

The state’s high gasoline prices can be traced to numerous causes that are largely out of the hands of local lawmakers, including Hawai’i’s small market size, geographic isolation and lack of Mainland-type competition. However, taxes are another story.

In breaking down the taxes, the most ? 18.4 cents a gallon ? goes to the federal government while 16 cents goes to the state. County taxes vary, and are 16.5 cents on O’ahu. Another 0.1- cent-a-gallon tax for environmental response programs goes to pay for cleaning up oil spills, drinking water contamination and underground storage tank leakage.

On top of it all, a total of 4.712 percent in retail and wholesale general excise taxes will be applied to gasoline sales starting Jan. 1. That equates to an added 10.5 cents on a gallon of regular gasoline purchased at today’s prices.

Apart from general excise taxes, which go into the general fund, the state and county taxes go toward road construction and repair, and in Honolulu they are also used to subsidize the city bus system.

Excluding general excise taxes, the state collected $116 million in state and local fuel taxes in the fiscal year ended June 30. About $81 million of that money went into the state’s highway special fund, which is mainly used for road building and maintenance and to match federal construction money. State fuel tax dollars accounted for about 41 percent of the fund’s total revenues of $204 million last fiscal year, according to the state Department of Transportation.

TAX TIED TO PRICE

Federal, state and county fuel taxes are calculated on a per-gallon basis, but the general excise tax is a percentage of the total price. What Hawai’i drivers will pay will vary depending on the price of gasoline.

I am planning to start riding the bus again, and my motorcycle is fuel efficient (uh, so long as I drive it responsibly), so this will not be a big expense for me. However, when the gasoline prices suddenly jump up in a few weeks it should be just in time for the long-awaited gasoline pricing transparency to emerge. The public may not like paying about 60 cents per gallon in taxes, “the highest in the nation,” to build highways and subsidize the bus, but neither do I think they’ll be too pleased if the transparency program reveals that the refinery profit margin on each gallon of gasoline sold in Hawaii is also “the highest in the nation.”

Comments (0)
12/19/2006

Hawaii residency required for Kauai PD chief

Filed under: Neighbor Islands — Doug @ 8:46 am
Seeming to fly in the face of a federal court ruling from earlier this year that found such restrictions unconstitutional, the Garden Island News reports that Kauai County will select a new police chief from among applicants who have been Hawaii residents for at least one year.

The County Attorney?s Office has interpreted federal court Judge David Ezra?s ruling that Hawai?i-residency requirements for government jobs were unconstitutional to mean the decision doesn?t apply to department heads ? or the future police chief. Ezra made the ruling June 22.

Deputy County Attorney Rosa Flores said the interpretation means the police commission will only accept resumes from residents who have lived in Hawai?i for at least one year.

Residents who have lived in Hawai?i for less than one year will only be considered if they meet the minimum-year requirement on their start date.

In previous years, the County Attorney?s Office has interpreted the police chief as an officer ?who you can recruit from out of state,? Police Commissioner Carol Furtado said. The county hired an out-of-state police chief in 1994 and reviewed resumes from a national pool of candidates in 2004, she said.

Police Commissioner Tom Iannucci said he was in support of the interpretation made by the County Attorney?s Office.

?It?s common sense,? Iannucci said. ?It?d be nice to have someone that knows about Hawai?i.?

I wish I could find that ruling from Judge Ezra online, because I’m having trouble believing that he would have ruled that it was permissible to discriminate against non-residents interested in leadership positions but not permissible to discriminate against non-residents interested in becoming rank-and-file employees. Furthermore, given all of the persistent pilikia involving the Kauai County police commission about the selection and tenure of the chief, looking for someone from outside the state would probably be a good thing…

UPDATE: A reader sent me the text of the ruling, and it appears that it only explicitly refers to HRS 78-1(c). My best guess is that Kauai County claims that the chief is being “appointed” under 78-1(b) and is not subject to Ezra’s ruling. Frankly, I don’t see any meaningful difference between being an “appointee” and an “employee.” But, unless some non-resident applicants try to apply, Kauai County may get by with this.

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Governor releases financial plan for next biennium

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 8:42 am
The Governor released her biennium budget plan yesterday, but at this point it’s far too early for anybody to get overly excited about any of the spending on her agenda. The news conference did, however, give us a look at what the Governor considers to be her funding priorities. For the hopelessly wonky, a collection of PDF links that go into greater (but not full) detail are at the Budget and Finance multi-year program and financial plan website. The Honolulu dailies both have stories based upon yesterdays news conference (Advertiser here and SB here). Meanwhile, David Shapiro has a post at his blog bemoaning the fact that unionized public employees will get pay raises, and that those pay raises will, in Shapiro’s estimation, inevitably be too generous and will displace other funding priorities.

The SB story reminds us that Lingle has yet to expand on the comments she made in her inaugural address regarding shifting the state economy away from development, and all the coverage makes note that there will be a tax refund next year of some unknown size. I reckon that the Governor and the Legislature will not reveal the size and type of their competing tax refund schemes until the last minute and/or the best possible media moment. Politically speaking, neither side wants to be first to reveal a scheme judged to be the wrong size or considered to benefit the wrong taxpayers.

Writing about the State Budget before there is a “Conference Draft 1? on the table is a few steps above pointless, but there’s not much else going on today.

Comments (1)
12/18/2006

They spent how much to win a legislative seat?!

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 9:58 am
An Advertiser piece about the money expended by the victorious State Senators in 2006 expands somewhat on an earlier article and post on the subject. Inspired by the article, I began poking around the Campaign Spending Commission website and came across a report (PDF) that lists the publicly-funded candidates for Senate and whether or not they were elected (see pages 23 and 24 of the report, which are pages 29 and 30 of the PDF).

Senator Hemmings used public funding when he won office in 2002; Hemmings received $3,805 in public funds for the general election period where he defeated Jackie Young (who received $5,165). In 2006, to win re-election, Hemmings did not seek public funding and spent $49,664 to defeat Frank Lockwood (who seems to have no records online). Also in 2002, Gary Hooser crushed publicly-funded Rosie Holt ($5,570) to win his Senate seat for Kauai, while Bob Hogue romped past publicly-funded ($7,245) Dwight (Pono?) Chong to win the Senate seat for Kaneohe.

Only 2 of the 20 candidates using public funding since the program began have won Senate seats. In House races there have been many more people opting to use public funding, and the win-loss record is better (135 recipients, 32 winners). A handful of Representatives have both won their seats using public funding and then held off challengers using public funding. However, with the retirement of Representative Hale and the defeat of Representative Moses, that era may have ended. If all the candidates on this list of those who applied actually qualified for and accepted it, then the following candidates won with public funding in 2006: Representatives Bertram, Cabanilla (an incumbent who was not publicly-funded in 2004), and Rezentes. Zero of the returning or newly-elected Senators won their seats using public funding.

So, my point is … you guessed it, we need to fully fund (or drastically increase) the amount availabe to candidates willing to run a campaign not reliant on the constant fund-raising that is so corrosive to the public trust.

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Pay to play yields fruit even after violating the contribution laws

Filed under: HI State Politics, Honolulu Politics — Doug @ 9:57 am
The Advertiser has a good article by Rick Daysog today that compared the list of campaign spending violators to the database of all companies receiving procurement contracts from the State and Counties. The story practically writes itself, once somebody bothered to look at the records. Nice work.

The firm that received the largest amount of work was SSFM International Inc., whose CEO, Michael Matsumoto, was fined a record $303,000 in 2003 by the Campaign Spending Commission for funnelling more than $400,000 in illegal campaign contributions through dozens of SSFM employees and their relatives.

According to the state Procurement Office’s Web site, SSFM received $13.8 million in state and county work since 2004.

DEFENDING THE FIRMS

Attorney Steven Hisaka, who represents SSFM and several other companies that were fined by the Campaign Spending Commission, said engineering firms shouldn’t be barred from receiving government work just because they were fined for illegal contributions.

Many of the firms have done good work for the city and state and the fines were for acts conducted by one person, Hisaka said. An entire firm, which can employ as many as 80 people, shouldn’t be punished for the actions of just one individual, said Hisaka.

“If the state attempted to bar companies in the future for these past activities, the state itself would lose the resources that these firms offer and the state might have to go outside of Hawai’i, which could cost jobs and would likely increase the state’s costs,” Hisaka said.

In addition to SSFM and its CEO Matsumoto, Hisaka represents Wesley Segawa & Associates Inc., Royce Fukunaga of Fukunaga & Associates Inc. and Park Engineering.

Weird, I don’t see Mr. Segawa, Mr. Fukunaga or Park Engineering on the list of violators, so I’m not sure why they are named/tarred in this story. [shrug]

Anyway, Hisaka’s rather lame defense suggests a possible response. Rather than punish the entire staff by barring a firm from future government contracts due to the malfeasance of one person, the government should be willing to do business with a firm if, and only if, no person penalized for making an illegal contribution is currently associated with the firm. Essentially putting the individual violators on a blacklist, where they should remain for a period of time commensurate with the scale of the violation.

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Akaku CEO leaves as new board huddles

Filed under: HI Media, Neighbor Islands — Doug @ 9:57 am
A rather cryptic Maui News article published last weekend reports that the Maui public access television organization, Akaku, is without a CEO again after just two months.

Acting [Akaku] board Chairman Henry Meyer said he would make no public statement about [CEO] Rodrigues? departure until after the meeting, which went into an extended closed session discussion Friday evening.

Speaking before the meeting, Rodrigues told The Maui News he did not want to discuss the details of his departure.

?It was a matter of differences in philosophy,? he said. ?I was hired by the old board. This is a new board.?

He said he was preparing to return to Oahu.

A full slate of 10 new board members was appointed and met for the first time in October, replacing a panel that had agreed, after more than a year of bitter conflicts, that it was too deeply divided and should resign as a group.

Rodrigues was hired by the former board members as one of their last acts before disbanding.

Anybody care to share your insight into the difference between the old “deeply divided” board and this new board? I never really cared wrapped my head around the whole “Dowling is trying to silence Akaku” feud that saw the departure of McLaughlin, but now I’m curious if Rodrigues’ departure is also related to those issues.

UPDATE: According to the Maui News, it turns out the Board and Rodrigues disagreed about the urgency of preparing a bid to continue providing the PEG programming to the State.

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12/17/2006

Stryker training issue to be argued again tomorrow

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 9:55 am
A Saturday Advertiser article forewarned of an op-ed by U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye about the stillborn Hawaii-based Stryker Brigade and his arguments for why it should resume operations in the face of legal setbacks.

Inouye tries to completely sidestep the NEPA factors of the issue, but does manage to weaken his own case in an offhand way:

Many months later, the chief called to tell me that, after looking at all the Army bases in the United States, he would recommend basing one of the Stryker brigades at Schofield Barracks, if an assessment from a full environmental impact study [my emphasis] showed it was safe. The two-year study noted that there would be some risk; however, it concluded that the Army could sufficiently mitigate the primary environmental concerns.

In a nutshell, the Ninth Circuit ruled that the EIS was not completed in full.

In lieu of any sound legal arguments, however, Inouye presents a “military necessity” argument, with a “Shinseki said so” twist to subtly invoke a respected local figure:

Today, Stryker brigades are the most effective and highly sought-after units for service in Iraq and Afghanistan. Why? Because Strykers protect and save the lives of our soldiers. Gen. Shinseki was right once again. The Army is desperately seeking approval to train our Stryker brigade because it is scheduled to deploy next year. For the safety of our soldiers we must allow the training to resume while the Army completes the supplemental environmental study that examines other locations, as required by the court.

Wait a second. The “most effective” units by what measure? The lower casualty rates we can expect from heavier armored vehicles are great, but have the troops been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan with the intent being for them merely to survive an indefinite series of seemingly-futile mounted patrols or to finish “the mission?” [Whatever the latest definition of that is.] Underlying Inouye’s argument is the implied threat that, with or without the Hawaii training to use the Strykers, the troops will deploy to Iraq—as infantrymen if necessary. To be blunt, you can’t pacify an insurgency, much less stop a civil war, from within in an armored vehicle. The evidence so far suggests that it may not even be possible on foot…

Furthermore, remember that, according to this op-ed, Shinseki made those comments about the Stryker Brigade to Inouye long before the current bloodbaths began and, once the Iraq invasion became imminent, Shinseki also famously told Congress that without several hundred thousand troops the Iraq mission would fail. I haven’t heard Inouye clamoring for those additional troops…

Thus, if the prevailing measure of effectiveness is the preservation of some ability to “stay the course,” then the Strykers are “effective.” However, since “the course” is clearly not working, that should not be considered a convincing argument. Put another way, insisting that Strykers are a necessity actually concedes just how badly things are going; “things are getting better in Iraq… but we urgently need more and better armored vehicles to increase our odds of survival.” Sheesh.

Inouye hopes to defuse such meta questions with a pat, “our couunty is at war.” That would-be trump card doesn’t play for me.

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12/16/2006

Limbaugh flubs his Hawaii one-liner

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 9:50 am
U.S. Senator Tim Johnson’s health has again turned attention to Hawaii’s two aged Senators. From a Hawaii Reporter post I see that Rush Limbaugh did a segment on his radio program where, in addition to riffing on a recent Newsweek column by Eleanor Clift, Rush also quoted a column by John Fund of the Wall Street Journal:

Then, I mentioned this earlier: “The grim reaper may be stalking a couple of other Democrats,” John Fund notes in Opinion Journal’s Political Dairy, “Hawaii is represented by two 82-year-old Democrats,” Daniel In-No-Way and Dan Akaka, “and Hawaii’s Republican governor, Linda Lingle would presumably nominate someone of her own party if a vacancy or two developed. Though admittedly ghoulish this new political parlor game is kind of fun.

Wellll, not exactly. Although it has yet to be exercised and the Hawaii Attorney General has opined that it may be unconstitutional, current Hawaii law specifies that the Governor name a replacement Senator of the same party as the previous office-holder. Article One, Section Three of the U.S. Constitution contains no such requirement, nor does the Seventeenth Amendment. I am not a lawyer, but I believe the “as the legislature [of any state] may direct” language gave the Hawaii legislature ample authority to enact the vacancy-filling system it did. Whether the Republican-leaning SCOTUS would agree is another question…

Meanwhile, the SB editorializes to suggest a better way to fill vacant seats on the U.S. Senate: special elections on short notice.

Nothing in the Constitution keeps states from conducting special elections to fill vacancies in the U.S. Senate. Indeed, Oregon and Washington forbid the governor from making interim appointments to the Senate, requiring that any vacancy be filled by special election. Oklahoma allows an interim appointment only if the vacancy occurs after March 1 of an even-numbered year; a permanent replacement is chosen by voters in the following year’s general election.

——-

The issue of how to fill a U.S. Senate vacancy is legitimate, especially considering Hawaii’s two senators’ age of 82. If a Senate vacancy were to occur during the Lingle administration, she would be foolish to appoint a popular Democrat who would be difficult for Republicans [i.e. Lingle] to unseat in subsequent elections.

Lingle and Democratic legislators understandably are at loggerheads on the issue. Oregon, Washington and Oklahoma provide populist models that should be considered.

Don’t bet on that. Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans would prefer a system that is truly “populist.” I think what is more likely is for the Democrats to re-introduce and for the Legislature to pass the same legislation that Lingle vetoed (PDF) last year—and then for the Legislature to (easily) overturn the Governor’s veto if that becomes necessary. Lingle’s rationale for her previous veto, that unelected party leaders are not accountable to the people, is a fig leaf given the cynical shenanigans we saw during the Bev Harbin boondoggle. At least in the Harbin case there was no way for Lingle to personally capitalize on her own misuse of power. What you can bet on is that if the law isn’t amended then Linlge would behave in the same way and that she would benefit personally. Barring an unlikely change to a special election process to fill a vacancy in the Senate, I’d rather have the inevitable shenanigans see the Governor appoint the weakest candidate from a list provided by the incumbent party than see the appointment of the weakest candidate chosen entirely by the opposition party. If the appointee is a hack, then at least he or she will be a hack of the same party as the former officeholder who was chosen by the whole state.

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12/15/2006

City settles ACLU lawsuit, yet seems proud of itself

Filed under: Honolulu Politics — Doug @ 9:14 am
I was pleased to see the SB report that the ACLU of Hawaii (of which I am a proud member) reached a settlement with the City and County of Honolulu regarding the arrest of homeless advocates who did not disperse from the grounds of Honolulu Hale as ordered by police. I always thought that the ACLU would prevail, so the settlement is not much of a surprise. What was a surprise, though, was the comment from Jeff Coelho speaking on behalf of the City:

Under the agreement, the city also must train law enforcement officers on the proper use of trespass laws on public property and consult with the ACLU on future issues stemming from access to the public grounds at Honolulu Hale.

“We welcome any and all peaceful demonstrations on the grounds of City Hall,” city spokesman Jeff Coelho said in a statement. “Our move to clean our parks has provided the needed catalyst for much more meaningful action on the part of the state to address the homeless issue on our island.”

It was probably an irresistible political jab at the Governor, but what does that have to do with the City violating the civil rights of protestors? It’s as if Coelho is indirectly defending the arrests by making what is essentially a “to make an omelette you need to break a few eggs” argument. I’d like to read the entirety of the joint ACLU-City statement (I don’t see it at either website), but from that quote Coelho looks like a jerk and the ACLU even comes away slightly tainted by association.

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Mystery developers and realtors spend big money—and Isbell still lost

Filed under: Neighbor Islands — Doug @ 9:14 am
A post at the Kona Blog directed me to the stories (Hawaii Tribune-Herald version here and West Hawaii Today version here) about a non-candidate committee being fined nominal amounts for being late to turn in various reports required by the Campaign Spending Commission.

Reports show Citizens for Kona collected $18,200, primarily from real estate agents and developers, and spent $15,217 — almost all of it in advertising on behalf of Isbell. In comparison, Isbell herself raised only $7,143 during the entire two-year election cycle while borrowing $24,678, according to her report.

For some reason, the Citizens for Kona report in question is not available at the Commission’s website. The Commission is planning to argue at the 2007 legislature for amendments to the law to provide for stiffer fines, but wouldn’t it make sense for the Commission to get their own act together, too? Seriously, what is the point of levying a fine if the reports in question (that have been submitted for over a month) are still not made public? Sheesh.

It would be interesting to know which realtors and developers were so eager to see Isbell re-elected…

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