Monday, December 29, 2008

Open arms, closed wallets

Hawaii residents may be welcoming president-
elect Barack Obama with open arms during his Oahu holiday stay, but they haven’t been opening their wallets to help pay for his inauguration.

An analysis of the $21.9 million in $200-plus donations made for inauguration festivities show $9,000 from one contributor as the only donation from Hawaii.

And that sole Hawaii contributor is actually a Chicago resident. Kehaulani Lum, who has homes in both Aiea, Hawaii, and the Loop in Chicago, is an Obama Mama who made news in the Windy City by holding a pre-election workshop for 11- to 15-year-olds called “Kid Filmmakers for Obama.”

The four days of inauguration festivities beginning Jan. 18 are expected to cost taxpayers as much as $50 million for preparations and protection for the estimated 2.5 million people expected to show up in Washington D.C. for the historic event.

The Aloha State showed more generosity during the election itself. Hawaii’s 1.3 million residents account for 4.3 percent of the United States population, but the $3.1 million in contributions to the Obama-Biden ticket was 4.7 percent of the $656.6 million the campaign raked in.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Hawaiian protest peaceful

A couple dozen people waved signs in front of the Capitol and
today, in the first of several pickets planned to protest the state’s plans to sell some of its ceded land.

The dispute has reached the U.S. Supreme Court, where it is scheduled for oral arguments Feb. 25.

Protesters next plan a Jan. 17 march down Waikiki to Kapiolani Park.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Mele Kalikimaka

Mele Kalikimaka


Happy Holidays

to You and Yours

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Hawaiian land protesters hope to draw Obama's eye

Native Hawaiians in a land dispute with the state that has advanced to the U.S. Supreme Court plan a Dec. 26 rally at the state Capitol to try to draw President-elect Barack Obama’s attention to their battle. Obama is currently vacationing on Oahu.

The rally is set for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the Beretania Street side of the Capitol, fronting Washington Place. Organizer Vicky Takamine said in an email the rally is “to bring awareness to (Gov. Linda) Lingle's immoral claim that the state has the right to sell and/or transfer Hawaiian ceded lands … We're hoping to draw media attention while Obama is here for his vacation and urge him not to meet with her.”

The case centers on ceded lands - lands once owned by the Hawaiian monarchy but ceded to the state to be held in trust for Hawaiians. The Hawaii Supreme Court in January froze the land, which includes Maui lands as well as Laiopua on the Big Island, until Native Hawaiian claims can be settled.

Lingle, through her Attorney General Mark Bennett, appealed the decision and the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear oral arguments Feb. 25. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the respondent in the case, has until Jan. 21 to file its brief.

“Anyone who characterizes our taking this case to the United States Supreme Court as somehow being against Hawaiian rights is simply misrepresenting our position on the situation,” Lingle said in a Nov. 24 news conference defending the state’s stance. “The issue involving the ceded lands is an important one for the state because it affects all the people, the Native Hawaiians and non Native Hawaiians.”

Jon Van Dyke, an attorney representing Native Hawaiians in the case and author of the book, “Who Owns the Crown Lands of Hawaii?” said cultural differences contributed to the misunderstandings between Native Hawaiians and the people who moved to the islands later. Van Dyke was addressing the annual convention of the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement and its 91 Native Hawaiian member organizations the day the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would take the case.

“Hawaiians have a very different way at looking at the world than the Westerners who ultimately came,” Van Dyke said. “Aina (land) was not a commodity to be bought and sold, but rather it was something to be nurtured.”

Ceded lands comprise 1.2 million acres of land on all Hawaiian islands - about 29 percent of the total land mass of the state.

“There's no question that Hawaiians have strong claims to vast amounts of land,” Van Dyke said. “There's no question in my mind that Native Hawaiians are entitled to land.”

Native Hawaiian groups point to the Apology Resolution enacted by Congress in 1993, on the 100th anniversary of the Hawaiian monarchy, as placing a cloud on the title to ceded lands, forcing the state government to hold them intact until questions of Native Hawaiian self-governance can be answered. Last January, the Hawaii Supreme Court upheld that view.

The state disagrees.

“These public trust lands were transferred by the Congress to the people of the state of Hawaii in 1959 for the benefit of all the people of the state of Hawaii to be used for the public purposes set out in the Admission Act like for the establishment of public schools and public improvements for betterment of homes and farms,” Bennett said during the Nov. 24 news conference. “The Admission Act explicitly gave the state the right to sell or transfer ceded lands for the purposes set out in the Admission Act.”

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Water Heaters for Christmas

HONOLULU -- Ten Oahu families were awarded free solar water heater systems today after they won a drawing sponsored by Blue Planet and Suntech Hawaii.

The families were randomly selected from a list of people who signed up to be a “friend” of Blue Planet Foundation, a nonprofit created to change the world's energy culture by raising global awareness and developing practical programs to implement clean, efficient and renewable energy. Suntech Hawaii, founded in 2004, is a renewable energy company specializing in solar photovoltaic and hot water systems.

The 10 solar water heaters—to be installed in the first months of 2009—will save approximately 500 barrels of oil over the life of the system. At today’s electricity prices, they will also save the homeowners about $150,000 collectively over the next 15 years, a spokesman said.

“A solar water heater is one of the easiest and most cost effective ways to reduce the use of fossil fuels and start saving money,” said Julie Rogers, Director of Community Relations for the Blue Planet Foundation, in a statement. “We want to provide an opportunity for people to get involved in Hawaii’s clean energy movement.”

Blue Planet and Suntech Hawaii are able to deliver solar hot water systems system at no out-of-pocket cost to the homeowners because of the state and federal tax incentives supporting adoption of solar energy. The two organizations have agreed to jointly cover the full after-tax/after-rebate cost of the systems.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Lingle presents slimmed-down budget

HONOLULU – Salaries will be frozen and Healthy Start prenatal health care and adult dental care programs abolished, but no state employee would be laid off under a reduced spending plan unveiled today by Gov. Linda Lingle.

The $11.1 billion FY 10 and $11.3 billion FY 11 operating budgets are a 3.8-percent and 3.3-percent reduction, respectively, over the base budget. But Lingle said the numbers represent a 14-percent reduction in discretionary funding over the two-year period.

Lingle also plans to tap into special funds – taking $36 million from the Deposit Beverage Container Special Fund, $9 million from the Wireless Enhanced 911 Special Fund and $40 million from the Emergency and Budget Reserve Fund – in order to balance the budget. The Legislature must agree to emergency appropriation bills in order for her to tap into those sources.

Lingle said she’d met with legislative leaders earlier in the day to present her budget proposal. The Legislature will use the budget as a base for its own deliberations, but doesn’t have to give the governor everything she wants.

“The world has changed and our fiscal situation has changed dramatically. That means it simply cannot be business as usual,” Lingle said during a news conference to announce her proposed budget.

“I believe that we will emerge stronger than we are now,” Lingle added, saying that the grim fiscal picture offers “great incentive to work together” with the Legislature in a collaborative fashion.

Lingle’s proposed cuts are in addition to cuts of $40 million proposed by the Department of Education and $13 million by the University of Hawaii System. Those two departments, combined with Department of Health and Department of Human Services, account for a whopping 78.4 percent of the state operating budget.

In addition to cutting spending and tapping into special funds, Lingle said the state would increase revenues by refinancing debt and collecting more taxes. While there would be no tax increase, Lingle said the state could collect an additional $122 million by stricter enforcement of taxes on cash transactions and tightening Act 221 investment tax credits.

A fast-tracked $3 billion public works program will also stimulate the economy and contribute to a healthy budget, Lingle said.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Lingle proposes salary freezes

HONOLULU -- Gov. Linda Lingle plans to cut $4.1 million from the state budget by freezing top officials’ salaries for the next two years.

The salary freeze would affect 208 employees, including the governor, lieutenant governor, cabinet heads and deputies and justices of the Hawaii Supreme Court and all state court judges.

The administration employees are scheduled for salary hikes of 5 percent on July 1, 2009 and 3.5 percent on July 1, 2010. The justices and judges are scheduled for salary increases of 10 percent in 2009 and 3.5 percent in 2010.

Lingle will propose a bill in the 2009 legislative session to accomplish the salary freezes. The bill covers the positions recommended for increases in 2007 by the Commission on Salaries. The increases will go into effect automatically unless the Legislature takes action.

The bill also would suspend a 3.5-percent increase scheduled for all 76 state legislators for January 1, 2010. Additionally, Lingle is asking the Legislature to forgo the 36 percent ($12,808) salary increases lawmakers are scheduled to receive on Jan. 1, 2009. This would save an additional $486,704 in fiscal year 2009.

“…It is important that state leaders also make sacrifices and lead by example,” Lingle said in a statement. “At a time when many Hawaii residents are losing their jobs or seeing their salaries frozen or reduced, it would be inappropriate for state leaders to accept pay raises.”

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Superferry: No Special Treatment

The Legislature didn’t craft a law specifically to bail out Hawaii Superferry after a court ruling last year temporarily grounded it, the Attorney General’s Office told a skeptical state Supreme Court today.

The five-member court took the matter under advisement, not saying when a ruling would be issued following about an hour of oral argument this morning.

At issue is Act 2, passed by the Legislature after an August 2007 Supreme Court ruling that required an environmental assessment before the Superferry could continue its interisland transport. Once the law was signed by Gov. Linda Lingle, a lower court vacated the Supreme Court’s injunction and the Superferry recommenced operations.

If the law was written strictly to benefit a “closed class,” it would be an unconstitutional abuse of legislative powers, said Isaac Hall, attorney for the Sierra Club, one of three groups filing the lawsuit. Hall contends the law was “conceived, cut and tailored” for the Superferry.

“The Superferry at that point could have appealed to the highest court … instead they appealed and we use that a little loosely, to the Legislature … They could have appealed to you; instead they appealed to the Legislature,” Hall said. “You as the highest court determined we were entitled to an (environmental assessment), and the Legislature can’t take that away from us.”

But the state maintains that Act 2 wasn’t created to benefit a closed class, because the law could apply to other businesses besides the Superferry. In theory, other high-speed ferry transports could come to Hawaii and benefit from the law, said First Deputy Attorney General Lisa Ginoza.

“The appeal is addressing the Legislature’s ability to deal with the important issues of the day,” Ginoza said. “The Legislature speaks on behalf of all of the people of the state … It’s perfectly within their authority to do so.”

But court justices seemed to be having a hard time grasping the concept that Act 2, created in a special session so soon after their ruling, could have been created to benefit any entity besides the Superferry.

“All other businesses have to comply with Act 343 (requiring an environmental assessment), correct?” asked Justice Paula A. Nakayama. “And how many business does Act 2 apply to?”

“Is there any entity that would fit that description except for Superferry?” asked Justice Simeon R. Acoba Jr.

Tough questions by the Supreme Court are just the latest the Hawaii Superferry has had to endure. A legislative auditor report issued yesterday said Act 2 undermines the state’s ability to protect the environment and could set a dangerous precedent.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Gimme Shelter

Gov. Linda Lingle, along with State Comptroller Russ Saito, who also serves as the state’s homeless solutions team leader, beginning at noon today will dedicate two new homeless transitional shelters on Oahu’s Leeward Coast.

The two facilities -- Kumuhonua (formerly Building 36), a former military building at Kalaeloa, and Ulu Ke Kukui (formerly Villages of Ma‘ili) in Ma‘ili -- are the final shelters to be developed under an emergency proclamation Lingle declared to address health and safety issues due to so many people living in parks and beaches along Oahu’s Leeward Coast.

The two shelters to be dedicated have the capacity for about 450 people, in addition to the more than 1,500 people Lingle says have been served in other transitional shelters since 2006.

The University of Hawaii last month released its “Homeless Service Utilization Report,” a study that attempts to get a handle on the breadth of the homelessness problem on the islands and how best to address it.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Affordable Housing on the Agenda

The House Committee on Housing was scheduled today to hear from a range of experts on the state’s housing problems. Hawaii is known as one of the most expensive states to live in, with its cost of living currently 8 percent higher than Los Angeles and 30.9 percent higher than Chicago, according to Move Inc.

That’s one reason the U.S. Census shows that only 56.5 percent of Hawaii residents own their own homes, compared to 66.2 percent nationwide. The 2000 median home value in Hawaii of $272,700 was more than twice the U.S. average of $119,600.

Among the experts invited to present housing data to the committee:
  • Kathleen Hasegawa and Sherrilee Dadson, directors, Habitat for Humanity
  • Karen Seddon, executive director, Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corporation
  • Jo-Ann Ridao, deputy director, Department of Housing and Human Concerns, Maui County
  • Nani Medeiros, executive director, Housing Hawaii
  • Chad Tanaguchi, director, Hawaii Housing Authority

Monday, December 15, 2008

Track state CIP projects online

HONOLULU – Gov. Linda Lingle held a news conference today to emphasize that her administration is implementing $1.9 billion in capital improvement projects statewide as part of a “five-point action plan” to stimulate the economy. The 1,521 projects have already been budgeted and approved by the Legislature for the next 18 months. But Lingle said the use of a new web site to track the projects increases public accountability.
“By putting the projects online and updating the public on their status in a timely manner, we are keeping the pressure on ourselves to ensure the projects keep moving,” Lingle said in a statement. “The public will be able to pinpoint what stage the project is in, and if there are bottlenecks such as permit delays, they will know exactly who to contact and who to hold accountable.”

Sunday, December 14, 2008

GMO in the News

Genetically modified crops, also known as genetically engineered or GMO crops, have long been the focus of Hawaii farmers and environmentalists and Native Hawaiian communities. Bills are proposed regularly in the state Legislature regulating or placing a moratorium on GMO crops in the islands. The Hawaii County Council on Nov. 13 overrode Mayor Harry Kim's veto of a bill preventing the genetic modification of taro or coffee anywhere on the Big Island.

Now the U.S. Government Accountability Office has released a report saying the public should have more access to information about genetically modified crops.

Highlights of the report released Dec 5:
  • The unauthorized mixing of some GE crops with non-GE crops has caused controversy and financial harm
  • In 2001, FDA proposed to require that GE food developers notify the agency before marketing their products. However, as of July 2008, FDA had not taken action to finalize the proposed rule, believing its current approach calling for voluntary notice is sufficient.
  • In 2007, USDA analyzed its record of over 700 violations or potential violations that occurred from January 2003 through August 2007 and found 98 that indicated a possible release into the environment. USDA is considering revisions to the regulations to increase transparency and to address advances in technology that may create new products and concerns."
  • GAO recommends that (1) FDA make public the results of its early food safety assessments of GE crops; (2) USDA and FDA develop an agreement to share information on GE crops with traits that, if released into the food or feed supply, could cause health concerns; and (3) USDA, EPA, and FDA develop a risk-based strategy for monitoring the widespread use of marketed GE crops.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has recently published proposed a rule for the "Importation, Interstate Movement and Release into the Environment of Certain Genetically Engineered Organisms."

Those interested in learning more about this topic may want to read this Dec. 8 article in Scientific America: "Genetically Modified Hawaii -- New varieties of genetically engineered crops thrive in the world's most isolated landmass," by Robynne Boyd.