Archive for February 2011

State skim = rail scam

February 28, 2011

One factor that greatly erodes confidence in the $5.5 billion O’ahu rail project is the annual attempt of the Legislature to raid funds from the half-cent excise tax enacted by the city to pay for the train.

This year, senators are proposing to “borrow” $200 million from the rail fund to enable them to balance the state’s budget while ducking the tough decisions to get their own financial house in order.

The state is already skimming 10 percent off the top of the transit tax — potentially $400 million over the life of the tax — to pay for nonexistent “administrative costs.” This unnecessarily runs up the cost to O’ahu taxpayers for Hawai‘i’s most expensive public works project by 10 percent right off the bat.

In Mayor Peter Carlisle’s first appearance before the Legislature, he wimpishly let Maui Sen. J. Kalani English extract a promise from him not to try to get the 10 percent back.

It’s no wonder English is so protective of the state’s share of the transit levy; it essentially forces O’ahu taxpayers to subsidize his Maui constituents by paying a 4.5 percent excise tax for some state services while neighbor islanders pay only 4 percent.

The concern is that instead of tightly watching expenses on this enormously costly project to keep it from growing out of control, it’s being treated by lawmakers like a giant slush fund that could turn into the biggest orgy of profiteering Hawai‘i has ever seen.

There is no longer any reasonable doubt that the combination of the city’s excise tax plus whatever federal share emerges from a cost-cutting Congress won’t be enough to build the 20-mile commuter line, much less cover the operating costs.

That city leaders refuse to say how they’ll make up the difference — and that the Legislature and Abercrombie administration shamelessly skim instead of holding the city’s feet to the fire — should make us all very nervous.


Here today, gone to Maui

February 18, 2011

I’m taking some time off to meet up with sibs I haven’t seen in a few years. Back in a week or so.

Did Abercrombie open the door for a GET increase?

February 17, 2011

Is anybody else starting to feel that Gov. Neil Abercrombie is getting a little wiggly on raising the general excise tax, which he promised not to do in his campaign for governor?

On the KITV4 morning show Monday, Abercrombie wouldn’t rule out a GET increase because of unfunded pension liabilities that are threatening the state’s bonding authority. The pension problem was well-known when he made his campaign promise.

Then yesterday, Abercrombie’s spokeswoman Donalyn Dela Cruz told the Star-Advertiser’s Political Radar that the governor doesn’t support a GET increase and didn’t propose one in his legislative plan, but added, “If a measure to raise the GET passes out of the Legislature because other elements of his plan are not adopted, he will of course consider it as the people’s will.”

Looks to me like a big wink to legislators that if they pass a GET increase, he won’t veto it.

It’s interesting that he’d consider what the Legislature might want to be the “people’s will” ahead of the clear will of the people who elected him on a promise of no GET increase; according to the recent OmniTrak People’s Pulse survey that Dela Cruz was commenting on, 68 percent of the public opposes an excise tax increase.

There was no wiggle room in what Abercrombie promised. His Recovery and Reinvestment Plan released during the campaign stated:

The General Excise Tax will not be raised. Given the public’s lost confidence in government, no reasonable argument can be made to raise the GET. Government will have to make better use of the revenues that it has and grow the economy if more revenues are needed.

In a September candidate forum with Mufi Hannemann, Abercrombie said, “I’m against raising the GET tax without equivocation.”

The governor reiterated his opposition to a GET increase in December, leading House Speaker Calvin Say to declare, “The general excise tax, which is so regressive, is off the table. It’s a Christmas gift to all the general public.”

Are we looking at a special Easter resurrection?

Carlisle pushes early for campaign cash

February 16, 2011

Mayor Peter Carlisle has a message on his campaign website promising supporters that “steps are … being taken to remove the specter of politics from Honolulu Hale.”

Then on the same page, he’s soliciting individual donations of $100 to $1,000 and selling tables for up to $8,000 for a Mayoral Celebration on April 19 at the Hilton Hawaiian Village to raise funds for his future political ambitions.

The campaign fundraiser, originally scheduled for Valentine’s Day, is being held in lieu of the less political inaugural ball traditionally thrown by new mayors.

Carlisle promises big-name entertainment headlined by Jim Nabors, Jimmy Borges and Monica Mancini, and those who plunk down $8,000 for “platinum” tables get their picture taken with the mayor.

It’s a new day from his time as city prosecutor when he made a big deal of placing limits on the campaign contributions he’d accept.

Carlisle, who was elected in a September special election to finish Mufi Hannemann’s term, has already announced his intention to seek not one, but two more terms as Honolulu mayor “if my family and the citizens of Honolulu permit.”

The new mayor has split with one of his most prominent campaign supporters, former Gov. Ben Cayetano, who said at a recent anti-rail news conference that Carlisle is not a reasonable man and indicated he regrets backing him.

But interestingly, Cayetano’s wife Vicky is still listed as a member of the event committee for the April fundraiser.

Big box office at the Capitol

February 15, 2011

Here’s hoping the starry eyes of our state legislators won’t prevent them from taking a hard look at the numbers before giving their blessing to a proposal for fat tax breaks to attract movie studios to Hawaii.

Relativity Media and partner Shangri-La have promised to build film studios on O‘ahu and Maui if they get tax incentives that would cost the state an estimated $46.3 million a year. Promoters say it could result in 20 movies a year being filmed in Hawaii.

To sell the idea, they enlisted written testimony from former President Bill Clinton as well as in-person appearances by prominent film stars, and threw a private Valentine’s Day party for lawmakers at a posh hotel.

It’s difficult to evaluate whether it’s a good idea or not based on the information we have, but it’s of concern that the proposal came in late and is sketchy in its details as to the economic benefits Hawai‘i would receive in exchange for the tax credits.

Relativity CEO Ryan Kavanaugh says it’s cost-prohibitive to film in Hawai‘i under the existing tax structure, but we have two TV series currently filming here and a bunch of recent movies.

Legislators in both houses were wise to delay decision-making until they get more information on how much new economic activity we can expect, how many jobs will be created and whether they’ll be quality permanent jobs for local residents or temporary positions that involve a lot of people flying in from the mainland.

A shell game on road repairs

February 14, 2011

The proposal by Gov. Neil Abercrombie and legislators to raise car registration and weight fees by an average of $50 per vehicle is a case study of why people are so cynical about the state’s gyrations to balance an $800 million budget deficit.

Lawmakers say they must raise vehicle fees because the state needs $86 million a year to finance road repairs and there’s only $17 million left in the highway fund to pay for the work.

The choice to taxpayers, they say, is to pay the higher fees or live with Hawaii’s disgracefully potholed roads.

The fallacy in that is, we’ve already paid to fix the roads.

Existing fees have produced plenty enough to keep our roads in good repair, with the fund over $100 million at times. It’s currently light and the roads unfixed only because the Legislature siphoned $145 million from the repair fund to pay for non-highway projects.

The current move to raise vehicle fees carries no guarantee that the Legislature won’t rob the repair fund again once it’s replenished, leaving us right back where we started.

These backdoor tax increases sting, and it’s a sucker bet for taxpayers to quietly accept higher vehicle fees without demanding assurances that lawmakers will discipline themselves and manage the money honestly for its intended purpose.

Monkey business gets a new look

February 11, 2011

The Atomic Monkey is back.

The website by former city IT employee and ad man Keith Rollman made news during last year’s governor’s race when the Mufi Hannemann campaign had to disown it for its over-the-top ridicule of Neil Abercrombie and ask Rollman to take it down.

Now he’s relaunched it as a general-interest humor blog covering local and national topics — and his recent items on the toy gun ban, the hoary bat resolution and the City Council’s attempt to censure Rush Limbaugh were pretty funny.

Rollman has technical and artistic talents and he puts together a slick package of original cartoons, funny pictures and Onion-like sendoffs combined with links to canned material from The Onion and

If he keeps it light and spreads out the barbs, it’ll find a following among those who like their political commentary pointed.

Good start for the appointed BOE

February 10, 2011

Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s appointment of First Hawaiian Bank chairman and CEO Don Horner to the Board of Education is the first glimpse of the gains we could realize from the new constitutional amendment switching from an elected to an appointed school board.

Horner replaces Lei Ahu Isa, who stepped down in advance of the shift that will come as soon as the Legislature passes enabling legislation.

Abercrombie’s first appointment represents dramatic change: the head of one of Hawai‘i’s biggest and most successful companies replacing a bottom-tier politician once described by former Gov. Ben Cayetano as one of the state’s weakest lawmakers.

Extrapolate upgrades of that magnitude to the entire school board and you can see the possibilities for improving our public schools.

Horner hit all the right notes in accepting the appointment, saying the board should focus on setting clear policies and goals for improvement rather than trying to micromanage the superintendent.

His vow to focus more on the “customers” — students and parents — is welcome, and his description of the Department of Education as an institution with long traditions uninterrupted by progress was on the mark.

Horner was involved in the clumsy attempt by the Business Roundtable last year to derail civil unions, and as with the Rev. Marc Alexander, Abercrombie’s choice for homelessness coordinator, Horner will grate on the governor’s supporters whose political world revolves around that one issue.

But he brings to the table some of the state’s best experience on how to make a big organization work, and Abercrombie deserves kudos for valuing proven expertise over ideological purity in those he recruits to help him attack some of our most vexing problems.

Civil unions near the finish line

February 9, 2011

During the same-sex marriage fight of the 1990’s, I once suggested settling it by taking a couple of the more reasonable advocates for the two sides — the late Tom Gill for the pro’s and Jack Hoag for the anti’s — and locking them in a room until they found a compromise that most people could agree to.

The idea of civil unions wasn’t fully conceived at the time, but I figured something like that was what they’d ultimately come up with.

Taking the word “marriage” out of the equation and making it purely a matter of equal protection under the law, I thought, might strip away some of the strong emotions that were dividing us.

It took a decade and far better minds than mine to pull the concept together, and emotions have by no means been absent from the civil unions debate of the last three years.

But after the November election decisively settled the question of whether voters were OK with extending the legal rights of marriage to gays, I’ve been impressed by the orderly manner in which the issue has moved through the 2011 Legislature.

Both sides have appeared at House and Senate hearings to have their say, but there’s been nowhere near the crowds or rancor of previous years.

With the Senate already passing a civil unions bill and House approval a virtual certainty after the measure won broad support in the Judiciary Committee yesterday, the bill appears on track to clear the Legislature and be signed into law by Gov. Neil Abercrombie within a month.

The reasonably respectful tone of the discussion this year offers hope that we’ll be able to implement the new law in a way that strengthens our community rather than divides us further.

The HPHA drama continues …

February 8, 2011

Those who have been into the Linda Smith story can follow the bouncing ball over at the Star-Advertiser Political Radar blog:

Linda Smith, the former senior policy adviser to Gov. Linda Lingle, is the new caucus manager for state House Minority Leader Gene Ward (R-Kalama Valley-Hawaii Kai).
Smith said she was terminated on Thursday as the chief financial management adviser to the Hawaii Public Housing Authority …

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