Thursday, January 29, 2009

Federal bailout: Will it help Hawaii?

Will the economic stimulus package that passed the U.S. House yesterday help state government balance its budget? Depends whom you ask.

A lot, says U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii.

Abercrombie says the state would see more than $2.3 billion from the House’s version of the bailout. The U.S. Senate is expected to vote on a measure next week.

“Our legislature is facing huge gaps between the demand for the basic services and the money to pay for them: state funding for schools, unemployment benefits for those whose jobs have disappeared, and funding to keep the most basic medical care available for people who have nowhere else to turn,” Abercrombie said in a statement.

Not so much, says the Washington, D.C.-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The public policy group says the amount that would go to states to help them maintain current activities is approximately $150 billion to $155 billion — or roughly 40 percent to 45 percent of projected state deficits.

“A substantial amount of funding in the House package beyond the $150 billion to $155 billion would flow through states or be administered by them.,” the group said in a Jan. 26 article. “But states would not be allowed to apply these other funds to the $350 billion in estimated budget shortfalls, a figure that represents the gap in state operating budgets and does not include local government shortfalls.”

Only with more budget cuts, says Gov. Linda Lingle’s Finance Director, Georgina Kawamura.

Her Jan. 27 letter to Senate Ways and Means Chairwoman Donna Mercado Kim balances the budget with an additional 2-percent across-the-board cut in discretionary spending and by increasing the withdrawal from the rainy day fund from $40 million to $60 million.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Big pig in the Capitol

Some folks think there are a lot of big pigs in the state Capitol. This morning, there was at least one.

The plump pink porker was brought on scene to bring attention to the latest study by the Grassroot Institute. The porcine pal wasn’t an actual oinker, but an anonymous person in a pink pig suit.

The 2009 Hawaii Pork Report is the conservative Hawaii-based advocacy group’s first attempt to put a dollar sign on what it sees as wasteful government spending.

The group worked with the Washington D.C.-based Citizens Against Government Waste, which has produced “piglet books” on about a dozen states in addition to its Congressional Pig Book.

“The 2009 Hawaii Pork Report is the first step in bringing fiscal sanity to the Aloha State," David Williams, Citizens Against Government Waste vice president for policy, said in a statement. “With an economic downturn it's important for government to get rid of unnecessary and ridiculous programs and evaluate those essential programs making government more efficient. Before taxpayers are asked for one more dime of their hard earned money, state and local governments need to rebuild the trust they've lost.”

Spending by state and local governments is under the microscope in Hawaii because of a projected $1.8 billion revenue shortfall over the current two-year budget cycle. Government officials will probably have plenty to say about this study, but hadn’t commented by press time.

“The only thing more shocking than the sheer amount of waste is the degree to which government officials will go to hide that waste,” Pearl Hahn, Grassroot Institute policy analyst and lead author of the study said in a statement. “This report gives dozens of examples of abuse of taxpayer dollars—but there are hundreds, if not thousands, more examples waiting to be found.”

Some examples from the report:

  • Between August 2005 and June 2008, the City and County of Honolulu spent $2.6 million in advertising to promote the 20-mile elevated rail transit project.
  • The City and County of Honolulu’s Handi-Van cost taxpayers $23.2 million in FY2007. Fares covered only 22 percent of the total operating costs of $24.8 million. In 2007, the average 5.7 mile one-way trip cost approximately $16.47 per passenger and required 24-hour notice. By comparison, a one-way passenger cab ride costs $13.68 and requires a mere five to 10 minutes notice.
  • The state Department of Agriculture spent $15,954.55 per Varroa mite on bees so far. Through 2007, more than $4 million in federal, state and county funds have been allocated to fight coqui frog infestation, but the population continues to grow.
  • The Child Support Enforcement Agency with the Office of the Attorney General has spent more than $3.5 million in state and federal but Hawaii ranks last in the
  • nation in collecting delinquent child support, with more than $500 million in payments outstanding.
  • The Department of Education spends $3.2 million per year to fund Hawaiian education programs where most of the employed kupuna cannot speak Hawaiian.48
  • The DOE budget grew from $972 million in FY 99-00 to $2.4 billion in FY 08-09, a 147-percent increase. Yet over this time period, Hawaii public school enrollment and test scores have decreased. Taxpayers are currently spending $14,000 per student in government schools—exceeding the tuition at elite private institutions such as Island Pacific Academy and Saint Louis School.
  • In all, the state is spending more than $1.5 million to restore the glass mosaic in the Capitol rotunda.
  • In June 2008, more than 600 state educators went on a taxpayer-funded trip to Orlando, Fla., at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort for the Model Schools Conference held by the International Center for Leadership in Education. The schools paid for airfare costs and provided the teachers with a $145 per diem stipend. In all, they spent $1.6 million.
  • The purpose of one state employee’s trip in October 2007 was for a “Hollywood Reporter/Hawaii TV Production Event” in Los Angeles. On top of a $600 airfare, the hotel stay was $385, car and taxi costs were $138 (not including $15 in gas and $84 in parking) and the per diem was $398.75 for a trip was for only one night.
  • Another employee, traveling to Los Angeles to attend the Grammy Awards in February 2008, racked up a hotel bill of $1,716. She also spent $382 on ground transportation and $150 for the Grammy ticket.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Poor prospects for human services

Not only will the poor always be with us, but, because of the downturn in the economy, their numbers are steadily growing, even as the state has less money to help care for them.

Human services groups around Hawaii remain focused – some quite literally – on bringing the plight of the poor to the forefront of the debate, as the Legislature chops its budget to get it in line with a $1.8 billion shortfall over the next two years.

Lawmakers and staff this morning were treated to fresh fruit, coffee and pastries as Partners in Care lobbied for more help for the homeless. Several hundred people yesterday, calling themselves PHOCUSED (Protecting Hawaii’s Ohana, Children, Under-Served, Elderly and Disabled) sported lime green shirts as they installed themselves in the Capitol rotunda and sang, hooted and waved at passersby.

Almost 21,000 homeless were provided services in the state last year, ranging from emergency shelter to transitional housing, housing placement, health care, to behavioral health services, according to Partners in Care.

On average, it cost $1,506 for each person in shelter, $212 for outreach per person served and $516 per person for emergency assistance, placement and care matching funds.

Lillian Koller, director of the state Department of Human Services, presented a budget today to a joint panel of the House and Senate Committees on Human Services, and pledged not to cut the safety net below 2003 levels. She said programs had been beefed up in the years since.

Parts of the Human Services budget – most notably to cover increases in medical and negotiated pay increases – will go up.

But reductions in services will be necessitated by $25.4 million per year cuts in general funds to comply with Lingle’s budget reduction targets. The department is also proposing to cut 28 permanent and four temporary positions.

There might be a shortage of money this year, but there’s no shortage of creative solutions to the state’s homeless problem.

Rep. Rida Cabanilla, D-Waipahu, Honouliuli, Ewa, has introduced a bill that creates a voluntary version of the old “Hobo Express” of the Mainland. HB 1187 appropriates $75,000 to send those homeless who want to go, back where they came from. All indications are, the bill isn’t going anywhere either.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Step aside, YouTube. Here comes GovTube

Step aside, YouTube. Here comes GovTube.

Gov. Linda Lingle is going to scoop herself on her most important speech of the year – her annual State of the State address to the Hawaii Legislature.

Her speech is scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday. If past years are an indication, she’ll speak to a crowded chamber, where lei-decked dignitaries and state and local officials listen intently, applauding or chuckling at the appropriate places. As in previous years, her speech will be shown live on her Web site.

Before all that, however, is a “Pre-State of the State GovTube Webcast,” set for 9 a.m. and featuring Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona, as well as Transportation Director Brennon Morioka, Land and Natural Resources chairwoman Laura Thielen, Agriculture Director Sandra Lee Kunimoto, Business, Economic Development and Tourism Director Ted Liu and Tourism Liason Marsha Wienert.

Then, after Lingle’s speech, there’s an 11 a.m. hana hou performance on GovTube. This session will feature Lingle’s Senior Policy Advisor, Linda Smith, discussing the administration’s initiatives. Programs taking center stage this year are: Highways Modernization, Recreational Renaissance, Food Self-Sufficiency, Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative and the Five-Point Economic Action Plan. A lot of capital letters to live up to!

Twenty-six of the 50 state governors have already given their State of the State addresses this year, and if their words are any indication, Lingle will be echoing a common theme of hard times, government reform and pulling together.

As compiled by, which has a library of State of the State addresses going back to 2000, here’s how some of the other governors have said it this year:

Jan. 22 speech of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a Republican: “Governor Wally Hickel said he feared more than any economic depression – a depression of the spirit … If there’s a shortfall, there are options. It’ll take a cooperative spirit all around to see us through the uncertainty … And we’re all in this together.” Palin is pushing for a 7-percent budget reduction.

Jan. 13 speech of Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat: “A common thread runs through our fiscal policies and sets Arkansas apart from other states, a thread spun from the wisdom of careful budgeting. By holding to our traditions of budget stabilization and conservative forecasting, we now find ourselves in an enviable position … Finding success among prosperity is admirable, but if we can capture success and continue moving Arkansas forward during a national recession, it will be a landmark of true achievement.”

Jan. 14 speech of Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal's, a Democrat: “Bear in mind that we are still in remarkably good position relative to other states … We are indeed in a storm. The storm is going to affect this state and this country and those that we love, and those that we don't know. The only thing we can do is to stay focused, stick with the underlying agenda, limit our expenditures, take advantage of the opportunity to review how we're spending money and become much more focused about the future.”

Jan. 14 speech of Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire, a Democrat: “This is our chance to reform state government to make it a more nimble and relevant partner in a new state economy. … Ladies and gentlemen, we need to reboot! … Over the decades, state government has evolved — layer upon layer upon layer. But too much of what served the people well in 1940 or 1960 or 1990 does not serve the people well in the 21st century.”

Jan. 6 speech of North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven, a Republican: “Ladies and gentlemen, the state of our state is strong. Eight years ago North Dakota did not have funding in its reserve account. Together, with purpose and a plan, we not only took the steps necessary to grow and diversify our economy but also to build our financial reserves. … When I say the state of our state is strong, however, I am mindful of the fact that as many as 41 other states are facing budget deficits this year or next. Clearly, our nation's economy is in a down-cycle, and we in North Dakota are not immune from its effects.”

Jan. 15 speech of Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons, a Republican: “The budget that I submit today reflects our current economic realities. It is $2.2 billion smaller than the one we submitted just two years ago. It is also a budget based on the money we have, without taking more from residents and businesses that are already making do with less. It is a budget that requires us to live within our means … I take no joy in submitting a budget that eliminates, reduces, or changes many things that we have grown to expect in Nevada – many things we have taken for granted when times have been good, and many programs we have added when times have been great.”

Friday, January 23, 2009

State considering closing parks

Four or five state parks would be closed and entrance fees charged at the remaining ones, under a bare-bones budget presented Thursday by the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

DLNR Chairwoman Laura Thielen said the department hadn’t “shredded down” to deciding which parks would be closed. Closing four or five parks is part of a 20-percent budget-cut scenario that might get even more draconian, based on revised economic estimates that put the state $1.8 billion short over three years.

Factors that would be considered include how easy the property would be to close off from public access, how popular it is, how much would be saved in utility costs and whether it was in a remote location that stretches parks staff too thin. No matter where the parks were, the department would take care that the impact wouldn’t’ be felt by just one community or island, she said.

Thielen, speaking to the House Finance Committee, said closing four or five parks could save $250,000 out of a $4.7 million parks and recreation budget. Hawaii's Division of State Parks maintains 53 state parks spanning 25,000 acres on five islands. About 60 percent of park-goers are tourists, compared to 40 percent locals.

“The parks are in dire straits,” Thielen said.

Her preference, however, is not shuttering parks but improving them and charging fees. Under her “Recreational Renaissance” plan, DLNR would float $240 million in bonds, fix up the parks and small boat harbors, and then charge fees for people to use them. Walk-on guests would pay $1 and cars could get in for $5, Thielen said.

“While people don’t like fee increases,” Thielen said, “I think if they see improvements and transparency and a comprehensive plan, we’re going to see we have popular support for that.”

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The $1.8 billion question

A morning of festivities, food and laughter today masked a darker reality that became clear by mid-
afternoon – the economy is in a world of hurt, and state government is grappling to find a solution.

Even the festivities at the opening day of the 25th Legislature were on the cheap – student performers from area elementary, middle and high schools replaced the professionals that have entertained on the House floor in previous years. After all the hoopla, a joint House-Senate money committee grilled administration budget chiefs on how the state can work itself out of an anticipated $1.8 billion hole by 2011.

Speeches by House and Senate officers and majority and minority leaders stressed bipartisan cooperation. House Speaker Calvin Say called the $1.8 billion shortfall over three years the worst budget crisis he’s seen in his 32 years in the Legislature.

“We must make up this shortfall, and this will be our major challenge,” Say, D-St. Louis Heights, Palolo Valley, said. “Everybody has to be part of the solution.”

Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, D-Nanakuli, Makaha, hit many of the same notes in her speech.

“These are the times when we must say what we can do and what we will do,” Hanabusa said. “These are the times when we can no longer afford partisanship or politics as usual. Times when our obligation is to bring the service, vision, and leadership we were elected to provide. Times when we stop looking for political points and start looking for the solutions.”

The Republican minority pushed for togetherness as well. It was the Republican leader of House, not the Democratic one, who drew applause by congratulating Hawaii-born President Barack Obama on his inauguration the day before. House Minority Leader Lynn Finnegan, R-Lower Pearlridge,

Aiea, Halawa, went on to liken cooperation in government to the plantation creation of saimen, made when Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos and Portuguese workers threw their contributions into a massive stewpot to make enough food for a crowd.

“People of Hawaii, the future is now,” Finnegan said. “Tough times are here, but if we are committed to working together, we will forge a better tomorrow.”

Finnegan’s food analogy was carried into her office, where, like the other legislators, she threw the doors open to serve food to constituents. In Finnegan’s case, saimen was on the menu.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

It's a good week to be a florist

HONOLULU -- The economy might be in the toilet, but at least it’s a good week for florists.

The halls of the state Capitol are awash in bright colors and sweet scents today, as cartfuls of floral arrangements, potted plants, Kona coffee, cookies and gift baskets began arriving for lawmakers, who hold the opening day of the 25th Legislative Session tomorrow.

It’s a 60-day session in Hawaii, but with breaks and mandatory recesses, it stretches from the third Wednesday in January – Jan. 21 this year -- until May 7.

Family, friends and fans of the 72 elected lawmakers like to say it with flowers, but many add sweet treats to the mix. It's not unusual to see the more popular -- read powerful -- lawmakers receive a dozen or more arrangements, but they're allowed to choose only two to put on their desks in the chambers, so as not to look untoward.

Not counting the stacks of lei that will be brought in tomorrow, floral arrangements and such will easily exceed four figures and probably move into serious money. Lobbyists, for example, report spending about $5 million a year to influence legislation.

Not that any lawmaker would accept a gift if he or she thought it was given to influence legislation. That’s just against the law.

According to and the state Code of Ethics:

“No legislator or employee shall solicit, accept, or receive, directly or indirectly, any gift, whether in the form of money, service, loan, travel, entertainment, hospitality, thing, or promise, or in any other form, under circumstances in which it can reasonably be inferred that the gift is intended to influence the legislator or employee in the performance of the legislator's or employee's official duties or is intended as a reward for any official action on the legislator's or employee's part.”

The code goes on to explain the forms used to report gifts. Hawaii law allows legislators to accept an unlimited number of gifts, as long as they report each gift alone or ijn the aggregate from a single source valued at more than $200.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Lingle held in effigy as Hawaiians converge

WAIKIKI – They have their differences among themselves, but all were united in their anger toward Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle.

Thousands of Hawaiians and “Hawaiians at heart” marched in the streets of Waikiki today and converged in Kapiolani Park to commemorate the 116th anniversary of the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii.

Even though a century has passed since U.S. forces came to the aid of a Hawaii provisional government and forced Queen Liliuokalani to abdicate her throne – and 50 years has passed since statehood – disputes between the Native Hawaiians and the state government are, if anything, becoming even more inflamed.

At most immediate issue is the Lingle administration’s appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court of a Hawaii Supreme Court opinion that placed a moratorium on the state selling ceded lands until an agreement could be worked out between the state and the Native Hawaiian people. That case is scheduled to be heard in Washington D.C. on Feb. 25.

Ceded lands are lands once owned by the Hawaiian monarchy but ceded to the state to be held in trust for Hawaiians. Ceded lands comprise 1.2 million acres of land on all Hawaiian islands - about 29 percent of the total land mass of the state.

Protesters carried a huge effigy of Lingle, along with signs saying “Lingle thou shalt not steal,” “Return stolen ceded lands” and “America get your ass out of Hawaii.”

Lingle could not be reached for comment today, a Saturday, but she has defended her administration’s actions in the past.

“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.”

Friday, January 16, 2009

Library of inauguration speeches now online

In anticipation of the inaug-uration Tuesday of Hawaii-born President-elect Barack Obama, hulu has put up clips of inaugural speeches from McKinley forward.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Mayors want more

HONOLULU – Hawaii’s four mayors knew better than to pass the hat around the Capitol this year, but they still had plenty of other requests during a joint session today of the House Finance Committee and Senate Ways and Means Committee.

The money committees also heard more details about the dismal economic forecast from members of the Hawaii Council on Revenues,. The council last week settled on a prediction of a 3-percent drop in revenues for the 2009 fiscal year ending June 30 and a one-percent increase for FY10, starting July 1. That’s about $125 million less to spend in 2009 and about the same the following year over the past spending pattern.

The numerous charts were bright, but their message certainly wasn’t.

Instead of a lot of money, the mayors of Hawaii, Kauai, Maui and the City and County of Honolulu are seeking changes to current statutes to allow them to do their jobs easier. The mayors several years ago formed the Hawaii Council of Mayors to present more of a unified message to the Legislature.

This year, the Council of Mayors endorsed seven priorities:

  • Making permanent the government liability laws enacted in 2007 – the “Sacred Falls law,” to keep public lands open by lowering the risk of lawsuits.

  • Representation on the boards of the Employer-Union Health Benefits Trust Fund and the Employees’ Retirement System.

  • Exclusion of teachers from the counties' contributions to the ERS.

  • Clarifying when a county will provide legal representation to a police officer

  • Help preventing homelessness

  • Protecting and encouraging farming.

  • Stimulating the economy

The Hawaii State Association of Counties, a nonprofit group formed by the county councils of the four counties, identified four priorities:

  • Extending the 45-day window for a legislative body to approve, approve with modification, or disapprove an affordable housing project to 90 days.

  • Exempting local governments from state procurement laws and give local governments discretion to use cooperative contracts.

  • Allowing counties to conduct criminal background checks on taxi drivers and applicants for taxi driver’s certificates.

  • Requiring the state to transfer a portion of the fines and forfeitures collected for uncontested traffic infractions to the county in which the violations occurred.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Substitute teachers seek pay parity

More than five years after suing the state to get better pay for substitute teachers, attorneys will press their case for back pay, this time to the Intermediate Court of Appeals.

Three judges of the court -- Corrine Watanabe, Daniel Foley and Katherine Leonard -- will hear oral arguments at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the Supreme Court courtroom in Aliiolani Hale.

Paul Alston, an attorney representing the substitute teachers seeking more than $25 million in back pay, is fighting for retroactive raises after Circuit Judge Karen Ahn ruled in 2006 that the state Department of Education failed to comply with a 1996 law requiring it to pay substitutes the same daily rate as fulltime teachers.

The Legislature last year passed, and Gov. Linda Lingle signed, a bill that requires the DOE to give substitute teachers the same across-the-board raises that regular teachers, under collective bargaining, get each year. Now it’s just the back pay that’s at issue.

Among other things, the Circuit Court ruled that the state is liable to the substitute teachers for some but not all of the back pay sought by the teachers but doesn’t have to pay interest. The state is liable for contract claims, but is immune from direct claims under sovereign immunity, according to the court.

But the Circuit Court also refused to expand the rights to part-time employees, sparking an appeal. Attorneys for the substitute teachers also appealed rulings on statutes of limitations, tolling, sovereign immunity, pre-judgment interest, class certification and intervention. The state challenges the circuit court's orders allowing a third amended complaint, finding a waiver of sovereign immunity.

Friday, January 9, 2009

State budget down $125 million

The Hawaii Council on Revenues today confirmed some lawmakers’ worst fears – there’s about $125 million less to spend than they thought for the budget year that's already halfway over.

The $125 million must be cut from the FY 2009 budget that ends June 30. Forecasters hope the economy will turn around in time for a 1-percent increase in the FY 2010 budget, but they aren't making any promises.

The projected 3-percent decrease in state revenues for the current FY09 budget is a drastic drop from the 0.5-percent decrease forecast just a few months ago. A percentage point equals about $35 million in revenues.

The cuts are going to be painful, hitting those who need help most. Education and entitlement programs such as those administered by the Department of Health and Department of Human Services account for a whopping 78.4 percent of the state operating budget.

Council on Revenues Chairman Paul Brewbaker will brief legislative money committees on the details of the budget downturn at 2 p.m. Tuesday in the Capitol auditorium. The Council reports its latest revenue forecast to the governor and the Legislature on June 1, Sept. 10, Jan. 10, and March 15 of each year.

Governor Linda Lingle wasn't surprised by the news.

"The Council on Revenues’ decision to lower projections is not unexpected given national and global economic conditions, as well as other external factors beyond our control that are impacting Hawaii," Lingle said in a statement. "The lower revenue projections reflect the challenges we will face as a state in the next couple of years, and underscore the need for all of us to work together. "

Hawaii is certainly not alone, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, which says only 12 states aren’t expecting budget shortfalls.

“These budget gaps are approaching those seen in the last recession, which were the worst since World War II, and show every sign of growing larger,” NCSL Executive Director William T. Pound said in a statement. "While the data we collected from state legislative fiscal officers are pretty sobering, our discussions with legislative leaders tell us that they expect the problem to only get worse.”

(This article was edited 1/13/09 for clarification following new information).

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Time to comment on the Superferry

The clock has started ticking on public comments about the environ-
mental impact of the Superferry. The state Department of Transportation today issued its Environmental Impact Statement, which found some negative impacts, but also suggested ways to mitigate them.

Comment period ends Feb. 23. Written comments should be snail-mailed or faxed to:

Katherine Kealoha, Director,
Office of Environmental Quality Control,
235 S. Beretania St., Suite 702,
Honolulu , HI 96813,
fax 808-586-4186;


Michael D. Formby, Deputy Director,
Department of Transportation Harbors Division,
79 S. Nimitz Highway, Honolulu, HI 96813,
fax 808-587-3652.

A Superferry spokesman said in a statement this afternoon that the company will continue to work to make its ship safe.

"The draft EIS combined with the data from over nine months of reliable service and 708 voyages provides a clear picture of our commitment to responsible operations and Environmental awareness. We remain committed to working with the state to address impacts raised by the draft EIS," the statement says.

Meanwhile the Hawaii Supreme Court is expected to rule soon on whether the EIS is enough: See a previous report.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Putting a price tag on the Akaka Bill

Passage of the Akaka Bill could cost the state of Hawaii as much as $689.7 million annually in lost revenues, according to a study being released Thursday by the Grassroot Institute, which opposes the measure.

The Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act of 2007 (S.310 and H.R.505) in the 110th Congress, also known as the Akaka Bill after sponsor Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, proposes to create a sovereign Native Hawaiian Governing Entity within the state of Hawaii. The bill stands its greatest chance yet of passage thanks to a Democratic majority in Congress and President-elect Barack Obama’s support.

A Grassroots Institute spokesman said this is the first study on the economic impacts of the proposed bill, which is expected to be re-introduced in the new session of Congress. It was co-authored by the Beacon Hill Institute.

"The Economic Impact of the Akaka Bill: Unintended Consequences for Hawaii is a straightforward look at how passage of the bill would hurt Hawaii business while pitting neighbor against neighbor," said Grassroot Institute President Jamie Story in a statement. "Regardless of one’s feelings about the Akaka Bill and its benefits or shortcomings, it is vital to examine the economic impact of the bill on Hawaii’s people. This study demonstrates the irreversible economic damage the Akaka Bill would do to Hawaii, and we hope Washington DC officials will take this into consideration.”

The group plans a news conference at 10:30 a.m. Thursday in front of the Queen Liliuokalani statue near the Capitol.

Lost revenues could come from the transfer of land to a Native Hawaiian governing group, taking land out of the state’s tax base, as well as the loss of excise and income taxes and land lease revenues, according to the study

Questions about the fiscal impact of the Akaka Bill surfaced Tuesday in a joint meeting of the state House Finance Committee and Senate Ways and Means Committee. The money committees were being briefed on the proposed $40 million operating budget of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs when Rep. Gene Ward, R-Hawaii Kai, asked about the fiscal impact if the bill passes.

OHA Administrator Clyde Namuo said a cost can’t be affixed to the bill, because the bill allows for many different scenarios.

The highest cost would come about if Native Hawaiians decided to set up reservations as a method of self-governance, where they would have their own government, including criminal and civil laws and the infrastructure to deal with it.

“It’s permitted in the bill, but if you ask me, do I think the Hawaiian people would want that, that is not my sense,” Namuo told the committees. “A system similar to Native Indian reservations is possible … I don’t think people would want that … but the bill allows that discussion to occur.”

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Everything old is new again

HONOLULU -- The Nature Conservancy of Hawaii rang in the New Year with a new state-of-the-art photovoltaic system that allows the nonprofit to generate clean energy and reduce its carbon emissions.

The powerful 12.6 kilowatt PV system was just installed atop the rooftop of the Conservancy’s downtown Honolulu office. Hawaii Energy Connection engineered and supervised the project in collaboration with Siu’s

Electric, the firm’s commercial installation partner.

“We are thrilled that these panels are helping us to reduce our use of petroleum-based fuel,” Suzanne Case, the Conservancy’s Hawaii executive director, said in a statement. “With our conservation mission, it’s imperative that we do our part and walk the talk.”

The Conservancy’s high-performance photovoltaic system is typically valued at more than $100,000. In a Power Purchase Agreement structured by Hawaii Energy Connection, the cost of the system was capitalized up front by a private investor and will be paid over time by the Conservancy as the user. The group will buy the power generated by the renewable energy system at a reduced rate below current utility pricing. The agreement structures the tax incentive provided by the state and federal governments to encourage users to install photovoltaic systems, to enable the investor to take the tax credit and thereby reduce the cost to the non-profit which otherwise could not use the tax credit.

The Conservancy purchased the Wing Wo Tai Building with its graceful gray stone facade on Nuuanu Avenue in 2005 to house its Honolulu office. Originally built in 1877 and rebuilt in 1916, the wood and stone structure survived the Great Fire of Honolulu in 1900 and now demonstrates how even historic buildings can be adapted to meet 21st century needs.

By late 2009, the Conservancy’s Molokai office will be outfitted with a similar system that will fully power the building — taking it totally off the grid.

“We are just doing what we can to tackle the global climate problem on a local level,” Case said. “By taking steps to shrink our own carbon footprint, we can be part of the solution.”

Monday, January 5, 2009

Grim budget news, times 10

Gov. Linda Lingle has proposed a budget that assumes the economy will dip only half a percentage point during the fiscal year that ends June 30. But lawmakers said Monday they’re expecting revenue losses to be 10 times that.

The House Finance and Senate Ways and Means committees held a combined informational session where the Republican governor’s budget director, Georgina Kawamura, briefed them on the Administration’s 2009-2011 spending plan. Briefings on specific departments continue through the week.

But the Council on Revenues, when it meets Friday, could render the current spending plans obsolete. Tax collections have been down 2.6 percent during the first five months of the fiscal year, and the year could end up down 5 percent over the previous year.

That would be $225 million less on a roughly $11 billion budget, compared with the $22.5 million the governor was working with.

If so, an administration spending plan that already cuts 14 percent of discretionary spending could be forced to slice deeper – much deeper.

Democratic majority lawmakers, as expected, had plenty of questions.

But several of them focused on Lingle’s restructuring of the state’s bonds to push about $300 million in annual debt payments eight years into the future, when she will no longer be in office.

“To me, it’s somewhat misleading,” said Senate Majority Leader Gary Hooser, D-Kauii, Niihau. “We’re just extending our debt.”

“We’re deferring it; we’re not saving it,” said Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Donna Mercado Kim. “We’re leaving it to the future to pay it … So it’s not a true savings.”

The Administration will do whatever is necessary to balance the budget, said Kawamura. It’s an ongoing process, she said.

“We cannot do it by cuts alone,” Kawamura said. “It is agony for us in regards to what we have to do every day to get a balanced fiscal plan.”

Friday, January 2, 2009

Lawmakers sharpening budget pencils

It’s never quite as simple as choosing between education, roads

or their own raises, but Hawaii lawmakers this year face one of those “can’t win for losing” types of legislative sessions.

Someone’s belt is going to pinch during these tough economic times, and budget shortfalls are bound to make for some testy sessions, especially with the prospect of lawmakers' own 36-percent raises looming.

The Hawaii Legislature kicks off the New Year with two weeks of budget briefings starting Monday. Gov. Linda Lingle has already presented her own slimmed-down budget that she says represents a 14-percent reduction in discretionary funding over the two-year period. Any early budgets, however, are sure to be further reduced when the state Council on Revenues meets Jan. 9.

Hawaii is certainly not alone, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, which says only 12 states aren’t expecting budget shortfalls.

“These budget gaps are approaching those seen in the last recession, which were the worst since World War II, and show every sign of growing larger,” NCSL Executive Director William T. Pound said in a statement. "While the data we collected from state legislative fiscal officers are pretty sobering, our discussions with legislative leaders tell us that they expect the problem to only get worse.”

Hawaii officials, however, seem optimistic that public works projects can help keep the state’s economy afloat. Hawaii is one of a half-dozen states that are actually planning on increasing public works projects, according to, while another half-dozen states are paring down their capital improvement projects because of financing problems or diminishing bond ratings.

President-elect Barack Obama’s proposed stimulus plan could send money to states to help keep state economies rolling. That makes the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials happy.

“President-elect Barrack Obama is pledging to put millions of Americans to work by building and repairing the nation's highways and bridges and a new survey of state ‘ready-to-go’ transportation projects is the road map he needs to make it happen," said Executive Director John Horsley in a statement.