Archive for February, 2011

Wild gift

February 28th, 2011
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The state Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee will hear a bill on Tuesday to clarify the state’s gift law after several state lawmakers became concerned about the interpretation of the law by the state Ethics Commission.

Les Kondo, the new executive director of the Ethics Commission, has told lawmakers that they are unable to accept gifts from lobbyists or others seeking influence at the Legislature in excess of about $25. The restriction includes meals and free tickets to events, such as the annual leadership awards dinner of the Hawaii Institute for Public Affairs, which was held last week.

The state law on gifts — on the books since 1972 — does not spell out a dollar amount, so the interpretation is up to Kondo and the Ethics Commission. One lawmaker who attended the House briefing said Kondo explained it this way: “A lobbyist can take you to Ryan’s but not to Alan Wong’s.”

Several lawmakers were under the impression that they could accept gifts from lobbyists up to $200 — the threshold for gift disclosure under a separate provision of state law. But the two provisions are distinct: the gift restriction is meant to discourage influence peddling; the gift disclosure requirement is to document gifts from sources that have business before the Legislature but are not expressly seeking to influence.

State House and Senate leaders decided to address the issue, and the Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee found a vehicle by adding a proposed amendment to a bill on lobbying disclosure.

“We agreed that we needed to take a hard look at it and come up with some guidelines instead of having one person interpret it,” said state House Majority Leader Blake Oshiro, (D-Halawa-Aiea), who has worked on the issue with state Senate Majority Leader Brickwood Galuteria, (D-Downtown, Waikiki).

The proposed bill would allow lawmakers to accept gifts of up to $200 — with an undetermined annual cap from a single source — even when it can reasonably be inferred that the gift is intended to influence.

The bill would also allow gifts of food or beverages; reasonable travel expenses for lawmakers to appear at events, provided that lawmakers notify leadership if the expenses exceed $500 and are paid by lobbyists; or tickets to events such as the HIPA dinner, although lawmakers would have to disclose such tickets when the value exceeds $200.

Common Cause Hawaii sent out a warning about the bill today and good-government advocates have started to attack the idea.

Kondo is expected to testify about his concerns with the proposed bill. In his written testimony, he said the bill would “allow legislators and state employees to accept significant and costly gifts that will likely cause substantial harm to the public’s perception of an ethical state government.”

SB671_SD1_proposed_

*Update:
The Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee indicated it would only carve out an exception for tickets to charitable events.

`Eh, howzit!’

February 28th, 2011
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U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, (D-Hawaii), caught up with President Obama at a White House reception for new members of Congress.

“Congresswoman Hanabusa said when the president saw her – he said “Eh, howzit!” said Ashley Nagaoka, Hanabusa’s spokeswoman.

Next

February 28th, 2011
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Lenny Klompus, the senior communications adviser to former Gov. Linda Lingle, is leaving his post in state House Minority Leader Gene Ward’s office at the end of the week.

Klompus said he plans to work in consulting and radio and has an outline for a book on the Lingle years. “It’s not going to be like the Cayetano book,” he said of former Gov. Ben Cayetano’s no-holds-barred autobiography.

He said the book would likely focus on what it is like making the transition from the private sector to public service.

Friday night lights

February 26th, 2011
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A frustrated state House Speaker Calvin Say (D-St. Louis Heights, Wilhelmina Rise, Palolo Valley) lit into several lobbyists and industry representatives tonight for their opposition to a bill that would lift general-excise tax exemptions on certain business activities.

The bill, similar to a proposal discarded at the end of last session, is one of the main options House lawmakers are considering to help reduce a projected two-year deficit of $700 million.

One by one, Say called the lobbyists back before the House Finance Committee for lectures about special interest treatment. The speaker said none of the opponents of the bill offered an alternative remedy to the deficit, and he asked them whether they would prefer a 1 percentage point increase in the GET instead.

“All you folks looked at was just for your own interests,” Say scolded.

Although a few of the lobbyists were brave enough to push back — including one representative from a nonprofit who told speaker that an end to their exemption could mean a reduction in social services that the state would end up paying for anyway — most simply took their medicine.

Hybrid

February 25th, 2011
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The state House Finance Committee is exploring a hybrid tax on pensions that would exclude a certain amount of pension income from taxation but impose the tax at federal adjusted gross income thresholds.

The committee, which could vote on the proposal on Monday, heard testimony today on two variations of Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s pension tax proposal.

Proposal A would base the tax on higher federal adjusted gross income thresholds than the Abercrombie administration prefers.

*$100,000 for single or married filing separately;
*$150,000 for head of household or surviving spouse;
*$200,000 for joint returns

Proposal B would exclude pension income from taxation up to these income thresholds:

*$75,000 for individuals
*$112,500 for heads of households
*$150,000 for joint returns

State Rep. Marcus Oshiro, (D-Wahiawa), the committee’s chairman, prepared the two options and is working with the Abercrombie administration on a potential hybrid of the ideas.

Fred Pablo, the state tax director, said he is open to a hybrid. But both Pablo and Dean Hirata, the deputy director of the state Department of Budget and Finance, told lawmakers they prefer the administration’s original position with these federal adjusted gross income thresholds:

*$37,500 for single or married filing separately;
*$56,250 for head of household or surviving spouse;
*$75,000 for joint returns

From Hirata’s written testimony, read on behalf of budget director Kalbert Young:

The Department of Budget and Finance supports the intent of these proposals but prefers the original Administration bill which has lower exclusion thresholds on pension incomes, and other provisions which are important components of the Abercrombie Administration’s approach to addressing the general fund budget shortfall.

The difference in revenue generation between the three proposals is significant. According to Pablo, the administration’s proposal would bring in $112.3 million a year, while Proposal A would generate $17.1 million and Proposal B would bring in $9.9 million. There was no immediate estimate on revenue generation for the hybrid option.

Earlier this month, the state Senate Ways and Means Committee heard a Senate alternative that included higher federal adjusted gross income thresholds than the governor proposed. The committee took no action on the bill.

State of the County (Maui)

February 25th, 2011
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The prepared text of Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa’s 2011 State of the County address:

State of the County Address 2011final Ver-2

`Circumstances have changed’

February 25th, 2011
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U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye said he would continue to support U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka if Akaka runs for re-election in 2012, but Inouye warned that he may not be able to help Akaka as much as he has in the past with fundraising and questioned his fellow Democrat’s fundraising pace.

In an interview Thursday night on Insights on PBS Hawaii, Inouye said any doubts about Akaka’s age should apply to him as well, since they both are 86-years-old. He also defended Akaka’s record and understated style. But he said that circumstances have changed since he and other Democrats rallied to Akaka’s side when he was challenged in the primary by former congressman Ed Case in 2006.

“As to his service to our nation, he’s done well. I think the record shows that. There are some who are flamboyant, some who are not. Some who are very vocal, and some who are not,” Inouye said. “The fact that one is flamboyant doesn’t mean that he is successful. The fact that someone is quiet and studious doesn’t mean he’s a weakling or he doesn’t know what he’s doing. Because, when I first got to the Senate, most of the very powerful senators hardly said a word. Have you ever heard of a speech by (legendary Georgia Sen.) Richard Russell?

“So, secondly, I have supported him all along and if he should decide to run I will support him. But now circumstances have changed. The last election I was able to concentrate fully on Senator Akaka. But now I’m president pro tem. I’m chairman of the appropriations committee and I’m a member of the leadership council.

“And, as such, they expect me as one of the leaders of the Senate to help all Democrats, not just one. And I’ve been doing that, even during my own re-election time.”

Inouye said he gave more than six figures to Akaka’s campaign in 2006 and he doubted whether he could match that again for 2012. Inouye gave $300,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee to help Akaka against Case and also steered other donors toward his colleague. He noted Akaka’s slow fundraising pace for his reelection — he had just $66,278 in cash on hand at the end of the year — and predicted he would need at least $3 million to be competitive.

A spokesman for Akaka was not immediately available to comment. Akaka has said that he plans to run for re-election.

Several Democrats, both nationally and in Hawaii, have been raising doubts about whether Akaka will — or should — run for another six-year term.

Linda Estes, a former Kauai Democratic leader, wrote in a letter to the Star-Advertiser that Akaka should retire. She said he has served Hawaii with distinction and should retire with honor. She also said he should announce soon so other Democrats would have time to organize their campaigns.

“I believe that I’m saying what a number of people are thinking,” Estes said today.

Dante Carpenter, the Democratic Party of Hawaii chairman, said the party is operating under the assumption Akaka is running. “My understanding from conversations from Senator Akaka himself is that he’s running for re-election and has every intention to do that,” he said. “And, until I hear otherwise, that’s what my understanding is going forward.”

Carpenter and other Democrats have expressed concern about a potential challenge from former Gov. Linda Lingle, a Republican with fundraising prowess. Lingle has said she would decide by this summer whether to run for Senate.

Inouye, in his interview on PBS Hawaii with the Star-Advertiser’s Richard Borreca and KHON’s Gina Mangieri, listed several potential successors if Akaka should retire. He named U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz, U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono, Gov. Neil Abercrombie, and former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann. Pressed further, he also mentioned Case and Tammy Duckworth, the McKinley High School graduate and Iraq war veteran who works for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

But Inouye said the party should try to narrow the choices. “Our problem, I think, at this juncture is to try to keep it down to a workable number,” he said. “Can you imagine if all six of them or seven of them ran? They’d kill each other.”

State of the City 2011

February 24th, 2011
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The prepared text of Mayor Peter Carlisle’s 2011 State of the City address:

Mayor’s State of the City Address 2-24-11

Almost cruel

February 24th, 2011
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State Rep. Barbara Marumoto’s comment on Tuesday that Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s proposed pension tax, when combined with his call to repeal a state income tax deduction, was “almost cruel” prompted a quick rebuke from the governor.

“When you start taxing pensions at such a low level, it’s almost cruel,” the east side Republican said of the $37,500 federal adjusted gross income threshold for single and married taxpayers filing separately under Abercrombie’s plan.

Abercrombie at first said that if Marumoto objected to the threshold she should come up with an alternative. But then he suggested that the lawmaker was misrepresenting his proposal.

“If you want to put forward an argument, representative, and you want to characterize it as cruel, then the least you can do is accurately represent what it is that we’re talking about. We are not talking about someone whose sole income – total – is $37,500,” he said.

Afterward, Abercrombie’s staff acknowledged that the governor had misspoke. His pension tax plan as written would, as Marumoto indicated, apply to single and married taxpayers filing separately with federal adjusted gross income of $37,500. (Hat tip to KITV for first mentioning the mistake.)

It was the second time in as many weeks that Abercrombie mischaracterized a key element of one his proposals at a public forum.

Last week, at a town hall meeting, Abercrombie told a retired police officer that his call to end state Medicare Part B reimbursements for retired public workers would not apply to him when, as originally written, it would have applied to the retiree.

Signing ceremony

February 23rd, 2011
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To an appreciative crowd that gave him a standing ovation and cries of, “Thank you, Neil!” Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed into law Senate Bill 232, legalizing civil unions in Hawaii.

Video of the ceremony (watch for the moment when he describes Sen. Clayton Hee as a “special friend” and the latter plants a kiss squarely on the governor’s head) …