Thursday, March 27, 2014

Obama Hawaii vacation costs add up, ukulele designation controversial, the bridges of Waikiki, Health Connector seeks PR, tax hikes for Maui, $26.5M Hamakua mansion sold, more news from all the Hawaiian Islands

Obama says goodbye
Obama leaves Hawaii, January 2014 courtesy photo
It cost taxpayers $7.78 million in flight expenses alone for President Barack Obama's Christmas vacation to Honolulu in December and January, according to Judicial Watch, the conservative, nonpartisan foundation. Star-Advertiser.

Judicial Watch announced today that it obtained flight expense records from the U.S. Department of the Air Force revealing that President Obama incurred $15,885,585.30 in flight expenses alone for the Obama family June to July, 2013 trip to Africa and their 2013-2014 Christmas vacation to Honolulu.

The Hawaii Health Connector has issued two requests for proposals seeking contractors to perform marketing services and public relations for the state-run online health insurance exchange. Pacific Business News.

Hawaii lawmakers are considering supporting the state’s troubled health insurance exchange with up to $15 million per year. It’s not clear whether the money would come entirely from a proposed sustainability fee on insurers or general fund appropriations. The fee would hit insurers that aren’t participating in the exchange. Associated Press.

Officially designating the ukulele Hawai’i’s State Instrument is proving to be far more difficult at the State Capitol than many lawmakers ever anticipated. Hawaii Public Radio.

Will Senate Investigators Be Able to Fix the Hawaii State Hospital This Time? Civil Beat.

Hawaii's traditional unemployment rate is low, at 4.6 percent, but newly released federal data shows that more people in the islands are underemployed than are jobless. Civil Beat.

The Blood Bank of Hawaii is relaxing its eligibility guidelines and adopting a friendlier questionnaire on Tuesday, some of the broadest changes by the state's only blood center in more than a decade, to enlarge its donor pool and attract younger donors. Star-Advertiser.

For the first time, the state will allow a limited number of polling place workers to work shorter shifts this election year instead of the 14-hour days they've had to endure in past elections. The state pays election workers $85 for a more than 14-hour shift at polling places from 5:30 a.m. until 7:30 p.m. or later. Hawaii News Now.

To understand political campaigns you need to answer two questions: how are the candidates doing and why this is the case. Campaign coverage in Hawaii never gives decent answers to these questions. Civil Beat.

There are still some Hawaii state senators who want to see a change in leadership, though it’s unlikely to happen during the current session and maybe not until the fall elections. Civil Beat.

On Tap at the Hawaii Legislature: March 27. A selective list of bills, resolutions, hearings, briefings and events for Thursday at the state Capitol. Civil Beat.

Oahu

Waikiki would get six bridges reserved for pedestrian and bicycle traffic, including four across the Ala Wai Canal, if the city adopts a regional traffic plan designed to make the area more multi-modal. A public meeting will be held Thursday to discuss the bridges and other traffic improvements outlined in the Waikiki Regional Circulator Plan, which aims to reduce growing conflicts between vehicles, pedestrians and bikers. Star-Advertiser.

The budget battles of 2013 may continue into the mayor’s second year in office. Honolulu City Council leaders are already taking a scalpel to Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s proposed budget for the 2015 fiscal year. Council members proposed reducing funding this week for some of the mayor’s top initiatives, including his Housing First program, his energy efficient lighting plan, and even his trumpeted road repaving program. Civil Beat.

Getting a permit to build a condominium tower in Kakaako was never a cakewalk, but the process is now shifting to a more rigorous, quasi-judicial and potentially adversarial format. The state agency regulating development in Kakaako recently adjusted its public hearing process and now is inviting anyone with an interest in future proposed development projects to seek a more active role in the decision-making that includes using expert witnesses and cross-examining developer representatives. Star-Advertiser.

About 1,300 Navy and Marine Corps families in privatized housing on Oahu who got a whopping 123 percent increase in their electric bills starting in October will get their rates dialed back to a 56 percent increase beginning Tuesday and continuing until the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30, the Navy announced. Star-Advertiser.

Scientists expect more endangered Hawaiian geese to migrate to Oahu now that a pair has not only settled near Kahuku, but is raising three goslings. The family of nene is believed to be the first of the rare species on Oahu since the 1700s. Star-Advertiser.

A federal biologist said Wednesday a pair of endangered Hawaiian geese that hatched goslings and settled on Oahu’s north shore were likely on their way back to Kauai from the Big Island when they stopped in Kahuku. Associated Press.

Hawaii

Some Hawaii residents and groups are abusing the state’s environmental rules, Gov. Neil Abercrombie said Wednesday. Abercrombie’s comments came in the context of a conversation that began with the National Park Service’s request to designate the Keauhou aquifer a water management area. West Hawaii Today.



A bill making its way through the Legislature would give a cash infusion to Big Island foster families who haven’t seen a funding increase in more than two decades. West Hawaii Today.

Mansion on Hamakua Coast sold for undisclosed amount. Seventeen miles north of Hilo on Hawaii island, a developer has made a big bet at making the Hamakua Coast more known for ultra-luxury homes than farms by building a helipad-capped mansion next to an oceanfront waterfall and listing the property for sale at $26.5 million. Star-Advertiser.

The Hawaii Electric Light Co. is giving Country Club-Hawaii a little more time to pay down the $212,385 it owes the utility. Tribune-Herald.

Maui
Maui County residents could see hikes in real property taxes, water bills and trash collection fees as proposed in Mayor Alan Arakawa's $622.6 million county budget for 2014-15. Maui News.

Maui County Council members continued to grapple with a measure Tuesday to set aside $50,000 to hire outside legal counsel to represent the county in a lawsuit filed by MAUIWatch Facebook page founder Neldon Mamuad. Maui News.

Mayor Alan Arakawa is proposing $115.8 million of county funds for various capital improvement projects in his fiscal 2015 budget proposal. Maui News.

The Maui County Council's Budget and Finance Committee will hold evening meetings throughout Maui County in April to receive community input on the county's 2014-15 budget. Maui News.