January 10, 2009

Poinography February 2007 archive

Filed under: — Doug @ 2:18 pm



Maui County Council plan to meet Sunshine Law is stalled

Filed under: Neighbor Islands — Doug @ 7:40 pm
The Maui News has an article following up on the issue of individual Maui County Councilmembers attending meetings of committees that do not include them as a member. Originally there were some plans to amend procedures to allow for it, but at the hearing the Council decided to ask for a written opinion from the Office of Information Practices and deferred action on the legislation.

The Maui County Council has three standing committees to which all nine members belong. Three other committees have five members, and are affected by the state ruling.

For some, the Sunshine question illuminated a deeper difference of philosophy on the role of the committee system.

[Councilmember] Anderson was among those who indicated it was their job to participate in committee discussions as much as possible. She complained that she?d been assigned to only one five-member committee while she?d requested to sit on all of them, and said the council should err on the side of more participation rather than less.

?We should just go with all nine-member committees until we can find another way,? she said.

But others held different opinions.

?The whole purpose of committees is to spread the work out,? said Council Member Gladys Baisa.

?I don?t have the time, nor the desire, to sit on all committees,? Hokama added. ?That?s why we have the committee system.?

Frustrations boiled over at points, with Anderson suggesting she?d been left out of behind-the-scenes discussions. Later during a recess, she broke up a conversation among Hokama, Council Member Danny Mateo, county attorneys and council staff, saying they shouldn?t talk privately.

?Aren?t we supposed to be trying to comport with the Sunshine Law?? she asked angrily as she walked away.

Baisa has it right, in my opinion. If every committee were to include every Councilmember, then the Council might as well deal with everything in a Committee of the Whole and be done with it. Nine-member committees make it harder to achieve quorum, and if the Council is (or becomes) factionalized then the majority faction could hold sway over every topic of debate.

Councilmember Anderson sounds like a person full of zeal, eager to participate in everything the Council does, and that’s great (if she is competent). However, the fact that Anderson is not assigned to any of the 5-member committees, combined with the instant account of the broken up recess conversation, makes me suspect that there is something more at play here than a question of Sunshine Law minutia. It sounds like a case of an outsider fighting against being iced out even further.

The article did not mention it, but I think that if the Council ignored the OIP (while waiting for a written opinion) that there would be a risk that any action taken at a committee meeting where non-members were present might be declared invalid.

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Legislature debates how to “spend” imaginary money

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 7:01 pm
A rather frustrating SB story about legislation (SB 1363 and HB 1277) to amend (or repeal) the Ko Olina “world class aquarium” tax credit. What is frustrating is that the article (and even some of the politicians quoted) speak of the tax credit as if it were an appropriations bill.

Hawaii lawmakers are debating what to do with $75 million that would have been spent on building an aquarium on Oahu’s Leeward Coast.

Some officials, including Gov. Linda Lingle and Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, want to pour the money into new business development in Waianae, where many homeless people live on the beach and wages lag behind the rest of the state.

Ko Olina Resort canceled a plan to build the aquarium and agreed not to use the money in January. The House Finance Committee heard testimony about the tax credit yesterday.

“The money” is not the State’s to spend, and until Ko Olina (or another taxpayer) builds the facility there is no $75 million! What is baffling is that so often the proponents of tax credits hammer on this distinction, yet in this case the article glosses over that point repeatedly.

But Rep. Pono Chong (D, Maunawili-Kaneohe) questioned why Waianae should get these millions of dollars when other communities across the state are also in need of financial support. He said he was not convinced money for businesses would necessarily improve quality of life.

“There is a disconnect between economic development and the well-being of the people,” Chong said.

The committee has not scheduled a vote on the tax credit, which would be available to commercial businesses.

Chong is right about that “disconnect,” but persists in speaking of this tax credit as funds that can be somehow delivered directly to businesses and “other communities” without any prerequisite activity from the private sector.

Oh, and the Finance Committee voted to amend the measure (again) today, but we won’t know what the latest draft would accomplish until they file the committee report.

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“Dog’s” resolutions – gathering hype, but not on agenda

Filed under: HI State Politics, HI Media — Doug @ 7:34 pm
A few days ago I saw a post at Hawaii Reporter by Representative Gene Ward about his resolutions urging a halt to the proceedings to extradite Duane Chapman to Mexico. Today the Advertiser’s Capitol Notebook blog has a post, too.

The weird thing is that I checked after the HR post came online, and I checked again today, and HCR 50 and HR 29 are not scheduled yet, although both blogs say the resolutions will be heard on Wednesday. Indeed, the resolutions have not even been “offered” on the House floor, so they have yet to be referrred, either.

What gives? Is the Legislature website not up-to-date, or is Ward counting his chickens well before they are hatched? (and, if so, then apparently the Advertiser staff are taking Ward’s press releases as gospel?)

UPDATE: The Advertiser confesses to their error, and explains how Representative Cabanilla attempted to salvage some face for Ward.

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Maui land trust describes plan for affordable housing

Filed under: Neighbor Islands — Doug @ 7:33 pm
An interesting Maui News article about a land trust being set up to provide affordable housing. I am not familiar with the panoply of real estate options, but apparently it works as a variation on the leasehold theme—therefore the prices are lower than fee simple property. There is a better description on the website.

Na Hale will operate like other land trusts around the country as a nonprofit organization that acquires or develops housing that will remain affordable in perpetuity, primarily by retaining ownership of the underlying land.

The model was created in 1968 and has been successful in 38 states, said Tom Blackburn-Rodriguez, president of the Na Hale board of directors.

Nationally, there are about 180 land trusts, according to online list of land trusts. According to the same Web site, a Kohala Community Land Trust has been formed on the Big Island but had not acquired any property as of July 2006.

I will be curious to see if the idea takes off on Maui. It certainly sounds like a promising idea worth pursuing. If it works, then I hope it is a model that could be used statewide.

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Pro- and anti-slavery letters from Kauai

Filed under: HI Media, Neighbor Islands — Doug @ 7:33 pm
I noticed a very unusual letter in the Garden Island News a few days ago:

Slaves serve middle class

There is a fact of life that many people seem not to understand. The fact is that slavery is alive and well. As it should be. If everything we buy was made by union members/workers, the middle class, including the union members, would not be able to afford to buy anything but the absolute necessities. Even the old manuscripts like the Bible talk about slaves. The Bible says to ?Treat one?s slaves well.? Currently our slaves are the illegals from south of our border and other peoples like the Chinese.

Would I want to be a slave? ?No way.?

Am I glad there are slaves? ?You bet.?

So if the middle class of the world is going to enjoy the benefits of wealth without having wealth, slaves are necessary.

Good or bad, right or wrong is not the question. That?s just the way it is. Stop to think about what things, everything, would cost if all things were produced by union members, unless robots were used to replace the ?slaves.? Generally the unions? fight against the replacement of union members by robotics.

Oh, and by the way, Wal-Mart employees are not slaves. They applied for the job, and with 2 percent unemployment, there are plenty of places that would hire them if they were unhappy with the pay or working conditions at Wal-Mart. I would love to see a side-by-side comparison of the wages and benefits of a Wal-Mart employee versus a Safeway or any other unionized store employee.

Gordon ?Doc? Smith


Smith is a regular letter-writer to GIN, but usually he doesn’t come in quite so far to the right. His letter stirred up a small storm of responses here and more responses and Smith’s second salvo here.

I tend to think that Smith was (as one response noted) intentionally inflammatory, i.e. “trolling.” But you certainly don’t see interesting political economy exchanges like these in the Honolulu newspapers. Maybe it’s because they don’t get letters like Smith’s and the respondents’, or maybe it’s because the Honolulu editors get letters like this but simply don’t print them (or fail to print them promptly). Whatever the reason, I can’t remember ever seeing 3 days of direct “call and response” letters in the Honolulu dailies.

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The economy is booming?

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 11:07 am
Using this SB article as inspiration, I have started to do some digging on the “surplus” topic I wrote about earlier. Borreca’s latest article begins like this:

A booming economy and a growing state surplus are increasing the speculation that this will be the year for major changes to Hawaii’s tax laws.

Gov. Linda Lingle’s administration is estimating the state’s two-year surplus at more than $700 million, prompting Lingle to call for $346 million in tax cuts over the next two years.

At the same time the state Senate this year set up a special committee to deal with taxes, the Economic Development and Taxation Committee headed by veteran Sen. Carol Fukunaga (D, Lower Makiki-Punchbowl).

The problem in years past, Fukunaga said, is that taxes are reviewed only after all other building blocks of the budget are set into place.

“Usually it is just whatever time you have left you look at what you can squeeze in — the one or two tax things you can afford,” Fukunaga said.

“In recent years, we have seen you can use tax policy as a much more dynamic tool in terms of state growth and diversification,” said Fukunaga, a supporter of using tax credits to encourage new business.

Okay, it’s not Borreca’s fault that those who take the official pulse of the Hawaii economy focus on things such as increasing tax revenue, low unemployment figures, and other such traditional indicators. In the budget game as set out in the Hawaii Constitution the economists call the opening shots. Economists do not do much subtraction and their work is rarely (ever?) challenged by the Governor or the Legislature. Thus, the “booming economy” (in the official estimates of the economists) does not reflect the growing gap between Hawaii’s rich and the poor, the vanishing supply of affordable housing, wage increases that do not keep up with inflation, and the crumbling public infrastructure; yet all these things suggest that the economy is not truly booming on anything more than a superficial level.

The budget “surplus” that leads legislators and the Governor to propose/demand “tax relief” is a fantasy that the public and all the powerful players agree to abide by for various reasons (ranging from ignorance and laziness to cynicism, I reckon). The hundreds of millions of dollars being fought over are only in play because of the none-too-precise work of the Council on Revenues. Each spring the Council makes a prediction for tax revenue that becomes the “bottom line” on the budget crafted by the legislature for the next fiscal year. When the Council forecast is too low, there is said to be a “surplus.”

Using the Council’s own data, I have compared their predicted “net total” revenues with the actual revenues. The Council’s revenue prediction for FY 2000 was 4.1% low. For FY 2001 they were quite accurate, with their prediction only 0.2% high. In FY 2002 the prediction (for a change) was 2.8% high. In FY 2003 they had another accurate year, only 0.1% low. Since then, the predictions by the Council were 2.9% low in FY 2004, then 5.4% low in FY 2005 and 1.4% low in FY 2006. In a few weeks we will learn their latest prediction for FY 2007.

Those percentages don’t sound that big, but over those 7 years the predictions were, on average, 1.6% low. Remember, however, that when dealing in billions even small percentages of error reflect hundreds of millions of dollars. My point is not to simply scold the economists (and the models they use to predict the future) for being imperfect (who is perfect? not me), but, in my opinion, the stakes for their errors are far too high and will only get bigger as the size of the economy increase. The economists need to do better, and/or we need to adopt a revised basis for budgeting that does not fly in the face of reality. Until that happens, we will have the same bizarre debate every year.

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Maui Council to attempt some sort of OIP workaround

Filed under: Neighbor Islands — Doug @ 11:06 am
The Maui News reports on two resolutions that are to be taken up by the County Council in response to a verbal ruling from the Office of Information Practices. According to a previous editorial, the OIP told the Council that members not assigned to a committee may not attend those committee meetings.

I am curious to know how the resolutions propose to resolve this situation in a way that will pass muster with OIP, but the Maui County website seems to only post resolutions after they have been approved. On the agenda for the Monday meeting, the resolutions are not yet numbered and it seems that the only way to learn the specifics of the resolutions is to appear at the County building before the meeting to “inspect” them and/or, if you choose, to pay for copies. What’s up with that?! The main purpose of a legislative website is to help the public to participate in the process, not to simply inform them of what has already been decided. Sheesh.

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Lingle asks Navy for 500 acres at Kalaeloa

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 2:14 pm
The Advertiser has an interesting story filed from Washington, D.C. where Governor Lingle is attending a conference of state governors. The details are very sketchy at this point, but it sounds as if her plan is to work with Senator Inouye and Representative Abercrombie to have federal land at Kalaeloa handed over to the State for a variety of uses—including (possibly?) affordable housing.

The Navy is considering the possibility of turning over ownership of 500 acres at Kalaeloa to the state government for a mix of housing, high-technology businesses and other uses, Gov. Linda Lingle said yesterday.

“I want the state to get that land without spending any state (government) money,” said Lingle, who is here to attend the National Governors Association winter meeting starting today. “Our investment would be in the (water, sewer and power systems) to bring it up to a level that could support the kind of development that we are talking about.”

The Hawaii Community Development Authority has a website (PDF) explaining a few more details and why they think this is a good idea. I honestly don’t have time to plow through the Kalaeloa master plan (PDF) today, but, for starters, I am wondering what the land was expected to fetch if it were sold on the private market. The state is arguing that the land is not worth as much as the federal government says because of the infrastructure improvements needed, but it would still be a major coup if Hawaii’s congressional delegation were able to convince Congress to cough up this pork government land for free.

All this presumes that Inouye and Abercrombie are on the same page as the Governor with respect to how to go forward. Unfortunately, there is no comment in the story from either legislator, nor is there any comment from the Secretary of the Navy (although Lingle describes her side of a conversation she had with him).

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Hawaii Green Party may lose qualification

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 2:14 pm
The Maui News reports that the Green Party of Hawaii did not receive enough votes in November to automatically remain qualified for a space on the ballot in future elections. To re-qualify the Greens will need to gather thousands of signatures during the next few election cycles and get more voters to support their candidate(s).

The article speaks specifically of the Greens, but I’d like to remind folks that if there were full public financing of elections then candidates, even candidates with no declared political party affiliation or members of “unqualified” third parties, could run a viable campaign if they were able to gather enough small contributions to demonstrate a modicum of community support.

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Environmental Council speaks out against Superferry EIS waiver

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 7:41 pm
The DOT decision to exempt the Superferry from completing an EIS has been reviewed (long after the fact) by the Environmental Council and the Council found the decision was flawed. The Advertiser has a story with the angry reaction from DOT and Superferry representatives.

Lisa Woods Munger, an attorney representing the Superferry operators, told the council yesterday its hearing was unfair because the Superferry company and the Department of Transportation were not adequately informed about the hearing and did not have the opportunity to give members a full briefing.

Munger also said she does not believe the council has the authority to issue an opinion. “I am amazed that the Environmental Council would make this decision without telling the Department of Transportation about the hearing or waiting to hear what it had to say,” she said. “The deadline to challenge this exemption was two years ago.

“It is not right to second-guess them after hearing only one side of the story.”

But the council was aware of the legal ambiguity around the opinion and felt compelled to make a statement anyway, even if only to influence public debate. Several said they feared that remaining silent would render their work on the environmental review process meaningless.

The Council took up the issue after receiving a letter from Senator Hooser this month. As for the hearing this week being “unfair,” the question hinges on if the hearing notice was publicly posted as required. If nobody in the Lingle administration (and nobody from the Superferry) took note of a meeting properly announced, then the “unfair” claim doesn’t carry any weight, in my opinion. For that matter, did the the OEQC fairly actively seek out the opponents of the Superferry when the decision was being made to exempt the Superferry from the EIS process? (I mean that as an honest question, not simply as snark.)

I am not a lawyer, but I don’t see any problem with the Council issuing an opinion on this matter, since among its legal functions is

[to] make recommendations concerning ecology and environmental quality to the director and shall meet at the call of the council chairperson or the director upon notifying the council chairperson. The council shall monitor the progress of state, county, and federal agencies in achieving the State?s environmental goals and policies…

On the Council website it also says that “The Council is responsible for … reviewing agency lists of actions exempt from the environmental review process.” That type of review appears to be precisely what the Council did this week in considering the Superferry EIS exemption.

UPDATE: Senator Hooser blogs on the subject here, with his in-person account of the drama at the Council meeting.

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Cachola wins a hand of high-stakes legislative gambling

Filed under: Honolulu Politics — Doug @ 7:10 pm
The Honolulu dailies report on an abrupt change made to the route for the mass transist system during a City Council meeting on Wednesday. (Advertiser story is here, and SB piece is here) The route that is likely to pass a final vote next Tuesday will include neither the UH-Manoa campus nor the Honolulu airport. Instead, it will go from UH-West Oahu to Ala Moana Center via Salt Lake Boulevard.

I share some of the concerns Larry Geller expresses at his blog, where he complains of a poorly executed decisionmaking methodology, but I don’t think Geller would be pleased to consider that the “methodology” used was completely predictable, exepected even, within a democratic society. The decision methodology is “majority rules,” because ours is not a technocracy. Sure, the Council could dabble in the grid analyses Geller mentions, but for a City Council decision the strongest factor in any such grid (indeed, almost to the exclusion of all others) is always going to be “five members support the option.” Basically, Geller’s longing for a better methodology confuses the independent and dependent variables.

In the end, democracy provides that our legislators are as free to make poor decisions as they are free to make good decisions. I agree that the process on Wednesday did little to inspire confidence that the “best” choice was made, but there it is. On the upside, a route that went to the airport but did not extend into Waikiki never seemed that smart to me anyway. The Salt Lake route should mean no piles of luggage taking up passenger space, which (as a non-tourist) sounds good to me. No airport connection probably sounds good to Slater’s sidekick from Charley’s Taxi company, as well. Heh.

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Awana trots out Lingle’s explanation of the circumvention of Haraga at DOT

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 7:04 pm
Governor Lingle’s Chief of Staff, Bob Awana, has an op-ed in the Maui News that aims to deflect the (overwrought) arguments previously made by Mr. Kahlstorf of Pacific Wings. Awana explains that reducing Haraga’s role at the Department was not unconstitutional, and describes the situation like this:

Some departments like the Department of Transportation require more support and attention. This was especially true when Rod Haraga served as director. To help Haraga improve the management of the DOT and allow it to focus on continuing to upgrade our state highways, harbors and airports systems, the governor provided the deputies with the responsibility to manage the daily functions of their divisions. This allowed the deputies to utilize their expertise in their respective fields and to focus on resolving the issues in their divisions in a more expeditious and streamlined manner.

As the governor?s chief of staff, I took an active role in working with the DOT and met weekly with Haraga and his four deputy directors. Together, we addressed the immediate issues facing the department, ongoing projects and long-term planning.

Haraga remained the director of the department and oversaw all administrative functions, which included approving and signing all contracts. Haraga also provided valuable contributions overseeing highway projects, as well as emergency response management such as during the Oct. 15 earthquake and the Pali Highway landslide on Oahu.

After that not-so-subtle slam of Haraga’s management skills in the first paragraph, note the clever use of ambiguity by Mr. Awana in the second paragraph. When these weekly meetings with Haraga and the division deputies occurred, were the meetings sequential or simultaneous? i.e. Was Haraga part of Awana’s “we” addressing the immediate issues facing the department at the(se) division meeting(s), or did Awana meet with Haraga separately—usually just to have contracts signed?

Maybe Representative Souki could clarify that… Heh.

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Superferry about to trigger an unavoidable EIS?

Filed under: HI State Politics, Neighbor Islands — Doug @ 7:21 pm
The Hawaii County dailies have a story (Hawaii Tribune-Herald version is here, and West Hawaii Today version is here) about a possible new pier at Kawaihae Harbor to accomodate the Superferry. The existing pier was heavily damaged by the October earthquakes, and a new “partial pier” would cost about $5M.

You may remember how the Superferry dodged the need for an EIS by using ramp-equipped barges to (dis)embark vehicles and passengers without the need for any physical construction at the harbors.

These new articles do not even raise the issue, but it seems pretty clear to my non-lawyer eye that a new pier would trigger an EIS for the Superferry—even if only for the Kawaihae location.

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Something is transparent, and it isn’t gasoline prices

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 7:21 pm
Kudos to the SB for a report with a few interesting quotes from petroleum company spokespeople opposed to gasoline price transparency. It’s pretty “clear” that transparency is coming, and the petroleum flacks are not too happy about it.

Critics of oil companies contend the state’s two refiners, Chevron Hawaii Corp. and Tesoro Corp., have kept prices artificially high in a tightly controlled market to maximize profits. Oil companies argue that Hawaii’s isolation and high taxes keep prices up, while an anti-business climate prevents others from entering the market and fostering competition.

Oil companies argue that much of their pricing information is confidential for competitive reasons and that making it public would be damaging.

Bruce Smith, president and chief executive of Texas-based Tesoro, said it would be no different from asking an employee to disclose assets such as how much is in a retirement plan.

“It’s a really difficult issue because it sort of feeds this sense that there’s something going on,” Smith recently told the Star-Bulletin. “I think it’s as simple as if we asked most people, ‘Would you disclose this?’ They’d say, ‘No, I don’t want to do that.’”

What a poorly chosen analogy. The difference, of course, is that the assets in an individual’s retirement plan do not have an impact on nearly every consumer in the State. Smith’s pricing information should face more scrutiny than Jane Doe’s retirement plan assets. The lame comments from the industry mouthpieces don’t stop there, though:

Melissa Pavlicek, an oil industry lobbyist representing the Western States Petroleum Association, said the industry already complies with a number of transparency requirements.

“We support transparency. We already comply with a lot of transparency,” Pavlicek said. “We’re just concerned about the disclosure of the proprietary company information to the competitors.”

Smith and Lynn Westfall, Tesoro’s chief economist, add that the amount of data that goes into pricing gasoline is so extensive that consumers would likely have too much information and not be able to do anything with it.

“Asking that question means you view our business as a cost-plus, like building an aircraft: We add up all of our costs, add on a 15 percent return on our money and that’s how it’s priced out. That’s not how it works,” Westfall said. “The price is set by supply and demand. It doesn’t do us any good to look at the cost of making gasoline because what would it tell you?

“You’re trying to come up with, What should be the price of gasoline?” Westfall added. “I could fill a supercomputer with data, and you can’t figure out what it should be.”

Unlike the suspended gasoline price cap law (which used a complex formula), under “transparency” consumers are not trying to figure out what the price of gasoline “should be.” Consumers are only asking what are the costs of producing the product and what are the profits. If Westfall needs “a supercomputer” to do such routine businesss accounting, then that’s his problem, not ours. Heck, if Westfall employs a way to quantify “supply and demand,” then by all means include those data in the transparency if they are such powerful factors. I don’t think that if profit margins were reduced demand for gasoline would exceed supply, but if there are data to prove that, then let’s have them.

Anyway, I suspect that the gasoline market is (to dabble in the economic jargon) only weakly elastic, i.e. consumers can only respond to increases in price slowly (by buying a more efficient car, or switching to mass transit, walking, etc.) and many consumers already drive as little as they (feel they) can. When the price goes up, consumers have to pay it—and grumble. Likewise, when gasoline is cheaper people don’t rush out and buy SUVs. Uh, well… nevermind that last point.

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Cabanilla apologized for advancing a measure to improve healthcare

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 7:17 pm
Representative Cabanilla seems unwilling to leave well enough alone, because she has a letter to the Advertiser editors where she ascribes her apology to the House to an effort to silence “personal attacks.” Sorry, but I don’t think she can have her apology cake and eat her “good idea” frosting, too.

If Cabanilla truly believes in the idea behind the bill and she does not think it raised any valid ethical concerns, then to suggest that she apologized only because the bill was drawing unwanted attention to her is not exactly an honorable admission to make. If it were so, then Cabanilla has squandered her so-called nursing expertise on the altar of political expediency.

A good idea is neither a “needless distraction” nor grounds for an apology.

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Maybe next year I’ll go sub-60

Filed under: General — Doug @ 10:56 am
I had a pretty good time running the Great Aloha Run this morning, but I missed my goal of a finish time under one hour—by less than a minute! Grrr. Still, it’s about 2 minutes faster than my elapsed time in 2006, which is some consolation.

Oh well, maybe if I’m lucky the timing chip and my wristwatch were not in sync and the official results may erase the small deficit. I was runner #648. If any of you readers participated and would like to share your stories/times, please feel free!

Note to self: bring a trash bag next year in case the long wait at the starting line is again a drizzly and blustery affair…

UPDATE: My official time is … 1:00:04! So close… Sigh.

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Online voting for Honolulu Neighborhood Board to begin soon

Filed under: Honolulu Politics — Doug @ 10:54 am
The Advertiser reports on the new method of voting available this year for Neighborhood Board elections. In addition to traditional papaer ballots delivered via US postal service, there will be an option to vote on the internet (site goes live February 21). I wrote a post on this topic a while ago when it was announced with few details.

To make online voting happen, the city teamed up with Commercial Data Systems Inc. The Hawai’i company has more than 18 years’ experience in providing secure online data services. The company created and operates the balloting system for Kids Voting Hawai’i, the online program that allows schoolchildren to cast votes for mock elections that parallel the real ones. “Online voting is not to be confused with electronic voting machines,” Manke said. “Neighborhood board voters will be allowed to vote securely from any computer with Internet access, as opposed to the electronic voting machines used in state elections.”

She said CDS has created the software needed for this pilot program and will employ servers using encrypted voter information to keep the information confidential.

Voter confidentiality is a good start, but what steps are in place to prevent fraudulent vote tallies?

Unlike the electronic voting machines used by the State Office of Elections in November (which have a paper trail for auditing the results if necessary), I don’t see how an online system could preserve anonymity and yet still have a voter-verifiable paper trail. I have a hunch that if the media were to press CDS to discuss their anti-fraud security features, the company would say that they need to keep security methods secret. That’s not good enough, in my opinion, especially if the system has no voter-verifiable paper trail. The computer code used to tally these votes should be open source and available for anybody to download for review.

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Borreca on arbitration and surpluses

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 10:18 am
Borreca’s latest column is another discussion of the binding arbitration process used to resolve collective bargaining disputes in the state. He concludes:

Giving public workers more money is easy for the Legislature to do, but designing a state budget where everyone benefits from the expanding state surplus has proven politically impossible.

It would sure be nice if our Council on Revenues were producing better revenue predictions. After all, these “surpluses” only come into existence because the Council greatly (and consistently) underestimates in making thier tax revenue forecasts. Sure, they somberly speak of “conservative estimates,” but all that really does is allow for upbeat “revenues exceed forecast” stories/spin, instead of downbeat “revenues fall short” stories. If the Council were more optimistic/accurate, the “surplus” would disappear (or be much smaller) and the legislature and governor could discuss how to spend the tax revenues so “everyone benefits” from a growing economy.

Instead, nobody ever takes the Council for task for getting it so wrong so often. Go figure.

See also my previous posts, here and here.

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Boomers retirement a challenge, and an opportunity, for workers left behind

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 10:05 am
The SB has a story about the projected impact of the surge of retiring state workers expected in the near future. The story is based upon a DHRD study (PDF).

The state is Hawaii’s largest employer with 49,427 civil service and exempt workers as of June 20, 2005. Of those state workers, 7,220 are between 55 and 59 and another 3,514 are between 60 and 64.

“A significant number of experienced employees, many of whom are in leadership or senior staff positions, can or will be eligible to leave the work force in five years,” Marie Laderta, state human resources director, wrote in the report, which was completed last year.

“We have been preparing reports for each department to give them a heads up so they can plan,” Laderta said. “There is a big gap between entry level and the retirement age. We don’t have a lot with middle experience.

“We are having a problem with institutional knowledge transfer,” she said.

Randy Perreira, Hawaii Government Employees Association deputy executive director, says there is a serious concern.

“It appears that our membership is bunched up at either the younger or older levels,” Perreira said.

As to Perreira’s comment, the chart in the article doesn’t really show a significant “bunching” at the younger and older ages. The distribution looks pretty much like a normalized bell curve, actually, with a slight bulge at ages 50-59. So maybe this “concern” is concentrated among his HGEA membership.

In order to get a more accurate idea of how much experience the State is losing, a “years of service” factor needs to be accounted for. i.e. not every state worker nearing retirement has more experience than a younger state worker not nearing retirement. The report looks at many different groups of state workers (executive branch, DHRD, DOE, UH, etc.) and presents data showing the average age and years of experience for the workforce. However, these data are not combined, and some combination of the age and experience data is needed to truly understand how large a crisis this may become.

Frankly, some jobs (both government and private sector) can be “mastered” in a few years, while other jobs take much longer. Then there are also workers who became competent at their job years ago—and then never made any further effort to improve… I am not worried if those types of workers retire en masse. Heh.

The article doesn’t mention it, but I also wonder how much payroll savings the State will see when/if these employees with the most longevity (i.e. those employees with the higher salaries) retire. The article could also have mentioned that this baby boomer mass retirement scenario is not limited to public sector workers. Mid- and upper-level management throughout the entire state economy will experience the same thing. It means many more opportunities for advancement for the post-boomer generation(s), who have been patiently (or impatiently) waiting for their chance. It may even entice some local-born workers who left to work on the mainland to come back to the State for a change.

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Wilcox to lead at Hawaii PBS

Filed under: HI Media — Doug @ 8:36 am
The Hawaii Reporter had a post yesterday, and the SB has a story today about the selection of KHON newscaster Leslie Wilcox to be the new President/CEO of the local PBS affiliate. I don’t watch television, so I’m not sure if viewers will notice the change from McCartney to Wilcox. Does this position actually have much editorial control? Did former President/CEO Mike McCartney initiate, frustrate, or terminate any locally-produced programs? I dunno. Do you?

Anyway, Wilcox’s selection almost didn’t happen:

Wilcox will start her new job as chief executive officer and president of PBS Hawaii on March 12. Her last day as a full-time news anchor will be March 2, but she will return part time to KHON in late April through May for the TV ratings “sweeps” period while continuing to work for PBS.

In the lobby of the news station yesterday, Joseph McNamara, KHON president and general manager, and Neil Hannahs, chairman of the PBS board of directors, announced her departure to co-workers.

KHON released Wilcox from a contract with two years remaining so she could pursue an opportunity that might not be available down the road, she said.

“It was a tough decision,” said McNamara, adding that management will look for a replacement in the newsroom, locally and nationally.

This is a reminder of the infamous “do not compete” clauses that television journalists are too often burdened with. In most instances, Wilcox would have had to wait two years after leaving KHON before being allowed to start at PBS. Here, KHON apparently let her out of that clause, but with the condition that she comes back during sweeps week. Which seems strangely sordid for some reason, but there it is.

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Rolling over discrimination?

Filed under: Neighbor Islands — Doug @ 8:33 am
I was drawn into this West Hawaii Today story by the introduction:

By most accounts — if she would have listened to them — Susan Golden would not have volunteered where she does.

Golden uses a wheelchair and has Friedreich’s ataxia, a rare disease that causes progressive damage to the nervous system. She said staff members of Destination Kona Coast told her in October 1998 that her presence would “create negative experiences” for cruise ship passengers.

The article goes on to describe Golden and three other volunteers who use wheelchairs while greeting cruise ship passengers on the Kona pier. The article has a weird meta twist (as does this post, I suppose) insofar as it is writing a inspirational story about people who would rather not be considered inspirational.

Anyway, Ms. Golden, who refers to herself a disability rights activist, says that DKC relented after she went to talk to them, and she began volunteering in 1999. And?! That’s a damaging thing to say about an organization (i.e. that they discriminate against the handicapped), yet the article seems to have made no attempt to confirm the story with the registered executives or the member businesses of Destination Kona Coast. Neither did the article ask the other two subjects (who started after Golden) how they became volunteers and if they had the same reception. The omissions from the story leave a cloud of suspicion, at the least.

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Kauai will win; Kauai will lose

Filed under: HI State Politics, Neighbor Islands — Doug @ 8:04 pm
The attorney hired by Kauai County to argue against a charter amendment that caps property taxes seems to have had a bad day in the Hawaii Supreme Court this week. The SB has a story, KHPR has a report (mp3) by Chad Blair (with a limited online lifetime, so listen soon) here, and there is a post at Hawaii Reporter, too.

Kauai essentially sued itself to initiate this fray, so Kauai will “win” no matter which way the ruling goes. However, from what I can gather in the tone of the reporting, the Pacific Legal Foundation attorney had a much smoother time before the Justices. If the Court rules that the Kauai charter amendment is valid, then the assumption is that other Counties will be likely to see charter amendments proposed to cap property taxes, too. I don’t know the specifics of the charter amendment processes in every County, but I don’t think there would be any chance for voters to consider similar charter amendments any earlier than the 2008 election. That allows a lot of time for supporters (and opponents) to organize.

Should the Kauai amendment be upheld by the HSC, then I would expect the Counties to ask the State to amend the Hawaii Constitution to specify that property tax powers are “exercised exclusively by the counties county councils.” It’s hard to predict how that ConAm would fare, but I’m sure it would be a hot topic.

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BB without an alias?

Filed under: Honolulu Politics — Doug @ 6:48 pm
Returning to my post from yesterday, I noticed a letter from Mayor Hannemann’s press secretary Bill Brennan in the Advertiser today (see last item on the page). Brennan’s letter makes largely the same points made by “BB” at Shapiro’s blog, so it strengthens my hunch that BB is Brennan.

Anyway, having another look at Shapiro’s blog post, he responds to BB by saying he is “comfortable” with his characterization of the story and he will wait for the arbitration to end. So, without saying so directly, Shapiro essentially dismisses the possibility that the State offer to HGEA is the same as the City offer. Further complicating things, Brennan’s letter at first says that the state offer is 4% and then a few paragraphs later says the state only offered a 2% “slap in the face.” [scratching my head] So, which is it?

Oh, and there is some fun banter about City employees leaving pseudonymous commentary on blogs, too. Such folks and their comments are welcome here, of course!

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Scooped and disgruntled ain’t a pretty combo

Filed under: HI State Politics, Honolulu Politics, HI Media — Doug @ 6:20 pm
After being scooped by a blogger [Note the terminology. Heh] last Thursday and by the rival Honolulu daily on Tuesday, David Shapiro writes a salty column today about the HGEA arbitration hearing. Even more interesting, Shairo writes a blog post describing his frustration.

I learned last week that Mayor Mufi Hannemann had broken ranks with the state and other counties in the HGEA salary arbitration by unilaterally advocating higher raises.

The information seemed solid, but I waited to write until I could give Hannemann a chance to explain his actions.

I sent the mayor questions by e-mail, which he referred to his press secretary Bill Brennan, who asked if he could have the weekend to get answers. By then, another blog had published similar information, but trying to be fair, I agreed to wait until Monday.

Brennan stalled all day Monday, raising suspicions that they were playing me to get the story out elsewhere on their own terms.

Sure enough, while Brennan gave me the runaround, Hannemann was making a statement to another newspaper addressing the questions I’d asked. Brennan didn’t mention that the mayor was talking when he finally called me Monday night.

I’ve always been straight with news sources and don’t appreciate duplicity in return, but I’ve been around too long to get overly exercised about such annoyances anymore. I turned to finishing my column about the arbitration flap for today’s Advertiser.

Well, that does sound rather crafty, although I don’t quite accept at face vallue Shapiro’s “not overly exercised” claim. However, a commenter identified as “BB” (could it be a barely-diguised Brennan?) says:

Dave, sour grapes does not become you. Another blog had written your story on Thursday of last week. You emailed the Mayor questions an hour before the close of business on Friday afternoon a day later and more than a few dollars short. Thursday also happened to be the day that the mayor had spoken to a reporter from the Star Bulletin, unbeknownst to Brennan. Another reporter got comment from the state, probably on Monday.They waited until Tuesday to publish the story. You were not given the runaround.

I’m playing amateur detective, here, but if BB’s comment is correct, then the level of detail (i.e. referring to the timestamp on the email query Shapiro sent to the Mayor) suggests that BB is probably Brennan. Perhaps Shapiro needs to keep closer tabs on the bloggers, like his colleagues at the SB seem to, and not be so late to get his reporting on.

Perhaps significantly, later in BB’s comment, it is alleged that the State’s offer is the same as Hannemann’s offer, i.e. 4% raises each year. That differs from how the Mayor described an offer of 2% from the State when questioned by the SB; it also differs from the (unsourced) 2% offer from the State included in the HR post. Governor Lingle’s quotes in the SB story never actually tips her hand as to the State’s offer. So, if the Mayor and Hannemann are both wrong and BB is correct, then the premise behind Shapiro’s column is completely undermined, ain’t it?

With all this new added intrigue, I’m now even more curious to learn the identity of the insider that tipped off Zimmerman to the story. If the Governor and the Mayor were both offering the same amount but someone from the State side leaked a story describing the Mayor as more generous, then it would truly be a case of impressive Machiavellian jujitsu. Actually, same observation would apply if a (false) leak came from the Mayor’s people. Who can tell, at this point?

And, yes, I realize that BB is pseudonymous and could be the one doing the spin here…

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“Hey, slow down, big spender” vs. “Scrooge McLingle”

Filed under: HI State Politics, Honolulu Politics — Doug @ 5:24 pm
For a nice change, I have a weekday social engagement to attend this evening so this will be my only (and a brief) post today.

The SB has a story today that seems to follow up on the HGEA arbitration talks previously mentioned here. As that HR post said, Mayor Hannemann is offering HGEA more than the Governor (4%per year vs. 2%, roughly put).

It has been expected that the state would offer government workers raises of 2 percent but that the HGEA could get higher increases because of binding arbitration.

Hannemann said offering raises of 4 percent a year for two years is “a recognition of reality.”

“Too many times, chief executives play games, and that creates morale problems,” he said.

Hannemann added that the negotiators should take into account that both the state and the county have surpluses.

“The state has a surplus; we have a modest surplus. How do you say to the employees, ‘You don’t deserve a raise’?” said Hannemann, whose mayoral position is nonpartisan but who traditionally has been aligned with the Democratic Party.

Lingle, a Republican, did say Hannemann has not officially objected to the state’s negotiations. Under the state collective-bargaining laws, the state is the lead negotiator and controls the negotiations with five votes to the four votes for the counties.

Well, there are a few ways to look at this, and both play well for Mayor Hannemann if you believe he is beholden to the public employee union. First, if the arbitrator awards HGEA generous pay raises then Hannemann is the hero. Second, if the arbitrator does not award HGEA generous pay raises then Hannemann has shown face at making an effort.

Likewise, if you choose to believe Lingle is the bulwark against “unions run amok,” then Hannemann’s indiscrete table talk paints Lingle as the champion of a large(r) taxpayer rebate and Hannemann as the too-generous union toady.

If nothing else, I’m glad I read this article to learn about this “State has five votes, Counties have four votes” structure. That’s all for today.

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So, where’s the problem, exactly?

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 7:34 pm
Today the Advertiser has a story that stirs the civil unions legislation pot. Neither the House nor the Senate have scheduled hearings on the topic, but the House Judiciary Committee chair is “interested” in hearing the bill. Whatever that means… The Senate has grown tired of passing the bill only to have the House kill it in years gone past, so the Senate is turning the tables this year.

Bills before the House and Senate would afford same-sex couples the same rights and responsibilities as legally married couples without calling their relationship a marriage. Lawmakers say they plan to give the bills a hearing.

Proponents say it’s about equal rights. Opponents say it’s still eroding the tradition of marriage.

Kelly Rosati, executive director of the Hawai’i Family Forum, said she opposes civil unions because she feels that they codify same-sex marriages under a different title.

She said she would support amending state law to offer more benefits to same-sex couples as long as it “doesn’t jeopardize the institution of marriage.”

State Sen. Gary Hooser, who introduced one of the bills, said, “It’s way past time we treat people equally under the law.”

The bills offer all the rights of marriage, and the Hawaii Family Forum is willing to grant more (but not all) benefits. So, seriously, where exactly is the threshold for Rosati? i.e. which benefit(s) would “jeopardize” the institution of marriage if it/they were offered to same-sex couples?

My hunch is that even if proposed civil union legislation was to only provide one benefit at a time to same-sex couples, then the HFF would oppose every such bill. However, I could be wrong, of course. To find out requires Rosati to step up. What type of civil union legislation would be acceptable to the Church? If there is one (or a handful of) benefit(s) that would “jeopardize” marriage as an institution, then let’s hear of them specifically, please. Otherwise somebody should call Rosati on her sophistry.

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Kahuku students headed to nationals

Filed under: HI State Politics, HI Media — Doug @ 7:28 pm
Congrats to Kahuku High School’s team of Constitutional and Bill of Rights scholars who defended their title at a recent competition held at KCC. The SB has a story about the event that really makes me wish they gave more detail.

The Hawaii students had about four months to study a set of questions. After presenting a rehearsed, opening statement written on cards, they were quizzed by schoolteachers, university professors, public officials and judges — this time, with no notes allowed.

“That follow-up question is nerve-racking for the kids,” said Sandra Cashman, who coordinates the Center for Civics Education program (PDF).

Students were asked to explain everything from when civil disobedience can be justified and the importance of due process in a legal case to whether native Hawaiians have a right to form their own, separate government.

I’m wonky, so I think they are all excellent topics for discussion, but…

How about including some description of how the competitors explained those topics?! The story begins with a Kahuku student speaking in support of a Hawaii sex offender registry (with no elaboration), but that’s the extent of the re-cap. I’m assuming that the SB reporter was present during the event, but maybe this article was written from a press release…

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Pay the paupers

Filed under: Neighbor Islands — Doug @ 10:27 am
In an earlier post about former Maui Council Chair Dain Kane being hired to lobby at the Legislature, I did not know how his salary (a total of $35,000 for four months work) compared to what he was paid as Council Chair. Well, today a Maui News story makes it clear that, if it were extended over the course of a year, then Kane’s lobbying gig would actually be a pay raise. The story doesn’t focus on that, but rather on the topic of raising salaries for the Maui Council and Mayor.

The Maui Salary Commission is contemplating a potentially significant pay hike for the County Council, after council members testified Friday that they barely scrape by on their current earnings.

The Maui County Council is already the highest paid in the state, with Council Chairman Riki Hokama making $57,500 and other members taking home $52,500. But salary commissioners were concerned that, with Maui?s high cost of living, many residents simply couldn?t afford to run for office under the current pay structure.

?The system has eliminated the possibility of (candidates) coming from a large block of people,? said Commissioner Andrew Herrera. ?You have to be either very affluent or willing to live as a pauper.?

He suggested $70,000 as a starting proposal for council salaries. Other commissioners said council pay should be on par with what county department directors and deputies earn, between $83,000 and $108,600.

Also on the table is a possible pay raise for Mayor Charmaine Tavares, who was not included in the commission?s salary adjustments for department directors last month.


Salary commissioners said they were most convinced of the need for a council raise by arguments that current pay is a deterrent to potential candidates who might face a significant pay cut if they left the private sector to run for office. Four out of nine council races were uncontested in the 2006 election, Salary Chairman Doug Levin noted.

?What that tells you is that most of the leaders in the community are saying, ?Forget it, it?s not worth it,? ? he said.

Hmmm, let’s unpack those comments for a moment. They imply that only “paupers” can survive on $52,500 per year. The affluent, of course, are more able to endure a few years of lower-than-normal income. For many people on Maui, however, $52,500 would be a pay raise. It’s almost as if Herrera and Levin imply that such “paupers” would not be suitable candidates for the Council; i.e. they are not “community leaders.” Surely, people who earn more money tend to be better equipped with the name recognition and the ability to make the sacrifices (time, money, and energy) encompassed in a run for office. A pauper person working two service industry jobs, on the other hand, would find it very difficult, perhaps even impossible, to spend long hours soliciting campaign contributions, knocking on doors, folding campaign literature, wavings signs on the side of the road, attending community fora, etc. He or she could still become a competent member of the Council, and would be happy to do the work “on the cheap,” so to speak.

On a lighter note, the Salary Commission has a few good zingers in the story:

Councilors also said their long hours on the job should be taken into account. They testified that they often work late into the night and through the weekends, responding to constituents, researching legislation and attending meetings. The Maui County Council spends more hours in meetings each month than any other council in the state, noted Council Member Michelle Anderson.

Salary Commissioners were less compelled by that argument.

?If you think you?re working harder than everyone else, join the club,? quipped Commissioner Dale Webster.

Thurston Robinson suggested ?long-winded? speeches might be to blame for Maui?s long meetings.

?Do you think you have more topics, or Honolulu just gets it done faster?? he asked.

He and others also seemed to think the council?s heavy workload was ?self imposed,? by straying from its defined legislative responsibilities and meddling in administrative decisions.

?Should we be compensating the council for doing the mayor?s job?? Webster asked. ?I?m not sure we should.?

Heh. Okay, so there is obviously a power differntial at play, with the Commission holding the purse strings and the Councilmembers coming before them on bended knees. However, I would really like to know the Councilmembers’ would respond to that snarky rhetorical question if their pay raise wasn’t at stake…

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Pacific Wings claims that DOT decisions are invalid because Haraga was bypassed

Filed under: HI State Politics, Neighbor Islands — Doug @ 10:27 am
The Maui News has another excellent article about the sidelining of former DOT Director Haraga. I don’t agree with the claims made in the article that Haraga’s treatment was unconstitutional, but the invalidity (or validity) of that point does not completely defuse the arguments Mr. Kahlstorf of Pacific Wings puts forth.

The article begins to answer some of the questions I had in an earlier post:

How much was Haraga paid to be the un-Director? Over $100,000 per year.

What other decisions were made while Haraga was cut out of the loop?

For example, on Aug. 12, 2005, he spoke about the Lahaina bypass in West Maui; and on Oct. 20, 2005, and Feb. 4, 2006, he spoke about the Superferry and Kahului Harbor on Maui.

Haraga, who has taken a job as staff engineer in the Design and Construction branch of the Honolulu city government, has not returned calls from The Maui News.

From August 2005 to December 2006, DOT policy direction was coming directly from the governor?s office.

It’s possible to read too much into that, because, when it comes right down to it, any department head who does not follow policy direction from the Governor’s (in any administration, not just Lingle’s) office will quickly be unemployed. Except for the AG… (cf. Bronster)

Kahlstorf also contends that all decisions coming out of DOT for the past year and a half may be invalid. He bases this on state law, which says the department ?shall be headed by a single executive.?

When asked who the single executive was after August 2005, Russell Pang, the chief of media relations in the governor?s office, said, ?Rod Haraga remained director with all statutory authority and oversight of the administrative duties of the department, including planning, budgeting and administration. The deputies were responsible for line operations and for making day-to-day decisions within their divisions.?

Kahlstorf isn?t buying it.

?Imagine how incredulous (2nd Circuit) Judge (Joel) August will be when he learns all the decisions and rationale he has been given by the administration for its actions related to the Superferry were invalid, because the governor and her chief of staff circumvented the DOT director, law and Constitution to advance their own agenda,? he said.

It’s definitely micro-management, but I don’t see that it rises to anything unconstitutional. Again, I am not a lawyer.

Last, there is this stunning comment from House Transportaiton Committee chair Joe Souki:

Although it was not publicly known that Lingle had removed Haraga from operational decisions in 2005, House Transportation Committee Chairman Souki knew.

He said Wednesday that ?of course? it bothered him, but he did not see what the Legislature could do about it.

?I was aware last year that (Haraga?s) responsibilities were taken away from him. I didn?t know why.?

Souki said he knew that ?the power was going to (Haraga?s) respective deputies, he was left only with public relations.?

?She?s the executive branch and we are the legislative branch and never the twain shall meet,? he said. ?I?m not privy to any of what happened. I can?t make any comment.?

If Souki knew, shouldn’t he have raised the issue or at least made it public?! I’m not privy to nearly as much gossip as a powerful legislator like Souki, but I handled all of the testimony for the House Transportation Committee last year and, even in that rather involved capacity, I never knew! Maybe Souki did not know until after the Legislative session had ended? Anyway, Representative Souki is anticipated to stop the legislation to force an EIS for the Superferry. By withholding this information about Haraga last year (and indirectly shielding the Governor from a closer connection to the issue), Representative Souki should expect some political heat from the Superferry opponents (and from others).

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Word from the collective bargaining arbitration

Filed under: HI State Politics, Honolulu Politics, HI Media — Doug @ 10:03 am
Maybe I missed it in the Honolulu dailies, but the Hawaii Reporter seems to have scooped them with a post about the arbitration hearings between public employee unions and the State and County governments.

Zimmerman says that Honolulu is offering HGEA employees a package of 4% raises for each of the next 4 years, along with a step increase for every employee each year of the contract. The City, according to Zimmerman’s account, admits that it can’t afford these proposed raises and that they would cause a deficit in two years. Furthermore, if the agreement ultimately looks like the City proposal, then it would be likely that the other Counties and the State would be held to a similar standard, Zimmerman says.

Also in the post, Zimmerman reports that the Governor’s offer to HGEA (minus the nurses’ bargaining unit) was 2% raises over the next 2 years; at a cost of $59 M. For their part, HGEA has asked for 7.5% each year, plus a step movement, which would cost $161M.

I’m equally interested in the meta story here. Are these arbitration meetings open to the media/public? If they are not public, then where is HR getting this information? [leaks?] If they are public meetings, then why are the other media not covering the talks?

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DOT “director” performed mostly PR functions for his final 18 months?

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 7:37 pm
Tha Maui News broke the story a few days ago, but the SB has a story today about the secret “figurehead” role played by Rod Haraga during his last year and a half as Director of the Hawaii Department of Transportation.

Lingle would not say specifically why the veteran highway and transportation engineer’s authority had been so severely restricted. Haraga did not return repeated telephone calls from the Star-Bulletin.

“We wanted results at a higher level in some of the divisions in the department, and so the chief of staff would have weekly briefings with the deputies,” Lingle said when asked why Haraga’s power was restricted. She termed it “a management issue on my part.”

[Lingle’s Chief of Staff] Awana said he decided to have weekly meetings with Haraga and the four deputies in the department.

“He (Haraga) still had the authority to do a number of things, but where items would bottleneck, I would remove the bottleneck,” Awana said. “I would step in and make the final decision if he was having a problem making the final decision or if there was clearly a dispute between the deputy and the director.”

Awana termed the problems within the Transportation Department as “an inability to get off first base.”

Asked why Haraga had not been fired earlier, Awana said Haraga was “guru when it came to highways. … He had a lot of good assets, and we felt that over time these matters would resolve themselves.” But “they did not resolve themselves.”

If these stories are accurate, then hosting a radio show and being the kindly, well-spoken “face” of the department before the legislature and the media are apparently the only real responsibilities Haraga held since August 2005. Still, thinking back to when Lingle was caught in her lie that Haraga did not want to be reappointed to her cabinet, Haraga somehow claimed that he was “surprised” that he was being fired. Haraga had been iced out for more than a year and he thought the Governor wanted to keep him around?! Go figure.

So long as Haraga was allowed to uphold the narrowest interpretation of his legal obligations as DOT Director (and it seems so far that he was), then if the Governor chose to micromanage him to this extent it would seem to be her right as Haraga’s boss. However, the Maui News article speaks of how Awana may have blurred that boundary in actions taken with respect to the DOT decision over which terminal go! airline would be assigned.

How much did it cost to pay Haraga for 18 months of essentially marking time? It’s as if the Lingle administration could not bear to fire a Director during the run-up to her re-election campaign. The public had no reason to suspect that Haraga was not actively running the department, and much of the public liked Haraga’s high-profile approach. It would be a good exercise for someone to go back and review all of the DOT policies and comments (e.g. Kahului Harbor cargo operations, Hawaii Superferry, etc.) since August 2005, to see what other Haraga-era actions might be more properly attributed directly to Lingle and Awana, the “shadow” director.

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Mayor proposes a tax credit for low-income tenants

Filed under: Honolulu Politics — Doug @ 7:34 pm
The Honolulu dailies both have stories about a proposal by Mayor Hannemann whereby low-income tenants would get a tax credit to help offset increased rents (which are expected if a owner-occupant property tax reduction goes forward). The Advertiser story is here and a SB story with a better explanation of how it would work is here.

There’s one detail that immeidately made me curious:

The requirements for renters to claim the tax credit include:

? Filing for and receiving a Hawaii state 2006 income tax credit for low-income household renters. That tax schedule will be required to file for the credit.

? Being a Hawaii resident with an adjusted gross income of less than $30,000.

? Paying more than $1,000 in annual rent.

The city estimates that 70,000 taxpayers will be eligible for the credit and has asked the state for a list of renters who qualified for the state income tax credit.

If the Council approves the renters’ credit and the state provides the list, those eligible will receive a check from the city in the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

The State Department of Taxation has not been very forthcoming in disclosing recipients of tax credits, citing a Constitutional right to privacy in Hawaii. Thus, I’m not sure if the State would provide the Mayor such a list of renters. However, the OIP made the State Film Office disclose a list taxpayers seeking the production tax credit, so maybe that ruling has set a precedent?

Also, notice this nugget buried in the same SB article:

The credit will be paid from an expected budget surplus, an amount that Hannemann declined to make public.

How could this figure be kept secret?! If the Mayor’s bean counters have calculated an expected budget surplus amount, we deserve to know it. Is there no City equivalent to the revenue forecasts generated for the State by the Council on Revenues? Are there no quarterly disclosures of City tax revenues that could be compared to the current budget?

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How to ensure GET exemption benefits gasoline customers

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 7:33 pm
The two Stephens Media newspapers have a story about SB 1098, which would reinstate the GET exemption for gasoline containing ethanol. (Hawaii Tribune-Herald here and West Hawaii Today here). Senator Menor wants to amend the bill and is debating how to do it:

The bill proposed by committee Chairman Ron Menor, D-Mililani, Waipio, inserts a guarantee that the tax break would go to the consumer and not be used to increase wholesaler’s or producer’s profit margin.

“What we’re trying to accomplish here is if the tax exemption were to continue that there needs to be some guarantee that the savings realized will be passed on to the consumer,” Menor said. “There’s got to be additional language to accomplish that.”

So far, to carry out that goal it looks like the following language has been incorporated:

Any savings realized from this exemption shall be passed on to the end consumer and shall not be used by a producer or wholesaler of alcohol fuels to raise wholesale alcohol fuel prices to increase the wholesaler’s or producer’s profit margin on the sale of the alcohol fuel.

Hmmm, where have we heard of profit margins before?… Oh, yeah, the “transparency” saga.

Menor and the state Department of Taxation agree that it’s going to be difficult to find a way to enforce a provision requiring the tax break be passed down to consumers. The tax is collected on the producers and wholesalers; making sure the consumer doesn’t end up paying anyway could become a bureaucratic nightmare.

Wha? It won’t be that hard. In fact, enforcement will be pretty easy to accomplish if the effective date of this GET exemption is set for sometime after the public release of gasoline pricing “transparency” data by the PUC. The GET should appear as a separate line item in the data, so it should be obvious if the GET exemption reduces the wholesale prices (and, in turn, if the retailers pass along the savings) or if the exemption is swallowed up by profit-taking instead.

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Superferry EIS bills are heard

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 7:31 pm
The Maui News reports on legislation in the House and Senate that would require an Environmental Impact Statement from the Hawaii Superferry project. The bill passed out of its first House committee, and the Senate bill is being heard as I write. I haven’t done anything like a formal “whip count” but I have a hunch that the votes may not be there for these bills to pass the House. (I feel more confident to predict that if it passes it would not be a veto-proof majority.)

Meanwhile, the SB has a story about a whale that may have been struck by a ferry operating near Maui. The craft involved was not the Superferry, it was a slower-moving ship. Too bad that this article does not mention the Superferry and the risk its high speed operations is likely to present to whales. By the way, the Lee Tepley video I mentioned in an earlier post is now on YouTube.

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Kauai tax revolt goes to HSC next week

Filed under: Neighbor Islands — Doug @ 7:28 pm
The Garden Island News and the Advertiser each have stories about the strange lawsuit that will be argued at the Hawaii Supreme Court on Februay 15 (here and here). A few days ago the Hawaii Reporter had a post from the Pacific Legal Foundation. I wrote about this topic in the past, too.

It’s quite a pickle. I don’t fully understand the various arguments put forth by PLF, but I am inclined to think that the County should have went the “declaratory judgment” route as the (new) County attorney discussed previously… but the lawsuit was filed by a previous County attorney and the strange case of a County suing itself will proceed. Oops.

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Another try for full public financing for campaigns

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 7:10 pm
Long-time readers are aware that I am a big supporter of publicly-funded campaigns (most recently in this post), so I was sure to carefully read this story from the SB about the latest piece of legislation (HB 661) to raise the issue. The bill seems pretty much the same as previous attempts, although the section about suspending the full public funding option when the special fund is under $6M is new (I think). The other new wrinkle is this:

Barbara Wong, state Campaign Spending Commission executive director, said the commission supports public campaign financing but has concerns about HB 661.

“The general public should be allowed to weigh in on this issue by voting on a constitutional amendment to authorize comprehensive public funding,” Wong cautioned.

She said that when the state Constitution was changed in 1978 to permit partial public funding of campaigns, the Constitutional Convention delegates specifically said they did not intend to have elections completely funded by the public.

Waters [House Judiciary Chair] said he would ask the state attorney general to research whether an amendment was needed before proceeding.

I am not a lawyer, but I am inclined to disagree with Wong, here’s why:

The section of the Constitution Wong refers to is Article 2, Section 5.

The legislature shall establish a campaign fund to be used for partial public financing of campaigns for public offices of the State and its political subdivisions, as provided by law. The legislature shall provide a limit on the campaign spending of candidates.

The plain language of this section directs that a certain fund be established for a certain purpose. This clause does not impede full public campaign funding because this section of the Constitution is proscriptive in nature (i.e. “shall do such and so”), not restrictive (i.e. “may not do such and so”). As you probably know, there are dozens of special funds which have been established by the legislature that did not require a Constitutional amendment. Futhermore, Article 3, Section 1, provides that the Legislature is free to legislate on any topic not contrary to the United States Constitution or the Hawaii Constitution.

The Governor has never been a big proponent of the idea, so it will be interesting to see what opinion the AG returns to Representative Waters.

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BIW has some actual content online

Filed under: HI Media, Neighbor Islands — Doug @ 7:09 pm
After several months of just a placeholder splash screen on the web, the Big Island Weekly website now has some content. I don’t know how recently this occurred, but I just finally noticed it today.

If I’m not mistaken, Big Island Weekly is intended to be a direct competitor to the Hawaii Island Journal. BIW is owned by Stephens Media (which owns the two Hawaii County dailies). Meanwhile, Hawaii Island Journal is the sister publication of the Honolulu Weekly.

Make what you like of that ownership web… So far, I was unable to notice much difference between the type of content at BIW and what is found at HIJ.

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Perl goes away for round two

Filed under: General — Doug @ 7:29 pm
I took Perl to the vet again after work today for the second part of her heartworm treatment. If all goes well, she’ll be home on Friday afternoon and the worms will be eradicated. Hooray!

It’s different writing posts without a dog lying at my feet. Wish her well, please.

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Time to activate one of those ethics committees…

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 7:29 pm
A blatantly unethical piece of legislation introduced by Representative Cabanilla has been killed after the purpose of the bill became widely known. The Advertiser reports that HB 722 would have superceded a County ordiance and thereby allowed for the construction of a group care home by Cabanilla’s campaign treasurer. The article also reports that the Representative had testified at a Neighborhood Board meeting that she intended to work as a nurse at the proposed facility were it to be allowed to proceed. Cabanilla now denies that she intended to work there.

Representative Cabanilla had the audacity to comment:

Cabanilla told The Advertiser last night she did not believe she had a conflict but, if she had to do it over, she said she would have had another lawmaker introduce the bill. “Looking back, I shouldn’t have,” she said.

But Cabanilla also said the bill was a worthy idea that could improve access to elder care. “You know how it is in this building. Anything that is controversial, they just can it,” she said.


Cabanilla, a nurse and lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve, appeared before the Waipahu Neighborhood Board on behalf of [her campaign treasurer] in September and said she would work at the nursing home. Some board members were appalled and told Cabanilla she had a conflict of interest.

Cabanilla said last night that the board had misunderstood her. She said what she meant was that as a nurse, she could work at a nursing home, not that she was going to work [her campaign treasurer’s nursing home].

Martin Burke, a retired Air Force colonel who serves on the board, said he recalls Cabanilla describing herself as a future employee of the nursing home. The board’s minutes for the meeting note that Cabanilla was speaking as a future employee, not as a state legislator.

“You have a state legislator coming in and trying to use her power in a way that many people think is inappropriate,” said Burke, who added that some were offended when they learned about Cabanilla’s bill.

One might think this was hubristic behavior by her, but I doubt very much if Cabanilla was/is even able to recognize the obvious ethical lapse. Cabanilla was a volunteer at the Lege before she ran for office, and even after an entire session volunteering she remained hopelessly ignorant of the legislative process and I considered her to be borderline untrainable. (Honestly, I’ve supervised high school interns at the Lege who were many times more competent.) Her ignorance as a volunteer was disappointing, but forgivable. Cabanilla is no longer a volunteer, but after a few years in office I think she still doesn’t get it. At this point ignorance is no defense.

Those proposals for House ethics committees take on a new urgency…

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Senior Advisor for Communications Klompus gets edited even more

Filed under: HI State Politics, HI Media — Doug @ 7:26 pm
The Advertiser runs Klompus’ missive as a letter to the editor today. As noted previously, Klompus was upset with the SB for editing his op-ed. I’d be almost willing to bet that Klompus submitted the same piece to both dailies, and the Advertiser not only excised much of the flowery rhetoric but also ran it as a letter instead of a column. The editors almost had to have seen the op-ed and his follow-up letter in the SB, so I can easily picture the Advertiser editors chuckling while wielding their red pens…

Oh, and their edited version only mentions the name of Klompus’ boss once … and they abbreviate her title. Heh.

Mr. Hu, the humble “most talented and insightful writer”, must be thoroughly peeved!

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