Archive for March, 2011

Options

March 31st, 2011
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State Sen. David Ige (D, Aiea-Pearl City), the chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said today that the Senate is still weighing options to raise the revenue needed to combine with spending cuts and balance the budget.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie told senators on Wednesday that he does not support a general excise tax increase. The governor indicated he would consider a House proposal to temporarily suspend GET exemptions on certain business activities, which is unpopular among some in the Senate.

“We’re looking at all the different options at this point,” Ige said.

One approach, Senate sources say, is to consider both a GET increase and lifting the GET exemptions at a hearing so there is a full public debate.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee plans to move out the Senate’s budget draft, and the revenue-generating bills to make it balance, next week.

Five-0 on the Floor

March 31st, 2011
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Nothing rules the day like celebrities! (See here. And here.)

Around 11 a.m. today a palpable buzz began circulating at the Capitol as word spread that producers and other talent from the CBS series “Hawaii Five-0″ were in the building to be recognized on the chamber floors for their success with the first season of the franchise’s reboot.

The talent was series star Alex O’Loughlin (Steve McGarrett), Daniel Dae Kim (Chin Ho Kelly) and Al Harrington (who appears in two episodes of the reboot, but also had a recurring role in the original series).


^^Alex O’Loughlin


^^Daniel Dae Kim


^^Al Harrington

In the Senate, where there are only 25 members, Senators were able to meet and greet the Five-0 folks individually. With 51 members in the House, Speaker Calvin Say instead suggested a “rare opportunity” to assemble for a group photo:

Below, the House resolution recognizing the series:

Hawaii Five-0

Alternative budget

March 31st, 2011
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State House Republicans released their version of the budget today, which avoids major new tax increases to close a $1.3 billion deficit.

Instead, minority Republicans urge Gov. Neil Abercrombie to delay state income tax refunds and borrow from the state’s hurricane relief fund to get through the fiscal year that ends in June. Republicans would find a way to replace the money from the hurricane relief fund in fiscal year 2013.

Kalbert Young, the state’s budget director, has said that delaying tax refunds might be an option if the deficit gets worse. For now, though, the Abercrombie administration is paying out tax refunds.

The Abercrombie administration wants the discretion to use all of the state’s hurricane relief fund to close the deficit this fiscal year.

Over the two-year budget cycle, House Republicans want Abercrombie to negotiate for two furlough days a month for state workers, institute a partial hiring freeze, and allow attrition to reduce labor costs.

The Abercrombie administration has talked about 5 percent labor savings, the equivalent of one furlough day a month for state workers.

Some of the other House Republican ideas:

*Sell state-owned lands.

*Restructure and potentially privatize state hospitals.

*Delay paying film tax credits.

*Delay state income tax deductions for higher-income taxpayers.

*Restrict appropriations to the University of Hawaii by 1 percent.

“We want to present every idea possible,” said state Rep. Kymberly Pine (R, Ewa Beach-Iroquois Point).

Republicans invite people to do their own budget math by going to www.HawaiiStatebudgetOnLine.com.

Right track, wrong track?

March 31st, 2011
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Gov. Neil Abercrombie, in an interview on Wednesday, was asked whether he felt he was on the right track or the wrong track with the state Legislature on the budget in his first session as governor.

I feel very comfortable on this track.

I don’t know if it’s the right track or the wrong track, but it’s a good track to be on. My relationships with the legislators are uniformly excellent and friendly.

We’re not pals and buddies, it isn’t that so much. But I meant we’re dealing with each other the way we should.

In the end here, this isn’t about us. I’m only sitting in this chair because people let me, not because I own it or I’m entitled to it. And I think most legislators recognize that as well. You’ve got to keep earning your seat.

So I feel we’re on the right track. I think we’re taking the right approach. I think that’s very, very important in tough fiscal times like that because people have to conclude that they’re being treated fairly.

Maybe tough. Maybe being treated tough. Maybe, `Oooh, this is a little tough, I’ve got to bite my lip here.’ But they figure that, hey, everybody else is too, and we got treated in a fair and equitable way.

Hypothetical

March 30th, 2011
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Public Policy Polling, in a new survey for the liberal website Daily Kos and SEIU, shows the potential Democratic contenders for U.S. Senate doing better against former Gov. Linda Lingle, a Republican, in hypothetical match-ups.

The Democrats also did better against former Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona and former congressman Charles Djou, other possible Republican candidates.

U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, has said he would not seek re-election in 2012, creating a rare open seat.

The poll was conducted between March 24 and March 27 among 898 registered voters statewide. The margin of error was 3.3 percentage points.

The horserace:

Ed Case (D): 52
Linda Lingle (R): 35
Undecided: 12

Colleen Hanabusa (D): 51
Linda Lingle (R): 40
Undecided: 9

Mufi Hannemann (D): 47
Linda Lingle (R): 40
Undecided: 14

Mazie Hirono (D): 52
Linda Lingle (R): 40
Undecided: 9

Ed Case (D): 50
Duke Aiona (R): 35
Undecided: 15

Colleen Hanabusa (D): 48
Duke Aiona (R): 43
Undecided: 9

Mufi Hannemann (D): 42
Duke Aiona (R): 42
Undecided: 16

Mazie Hirono (D): 49
Duke Aiona (R): 42
Undecided: 10

Ed Case (D): 53
Charles Djou (R): 35
Undecided: 12

Colleen Hanabusa (D): 50
Charles Djou (R): 40
Undecided: 10

Mufi Hannemann (D): 46
Charles Djou (R): 40
Undecided: 14

Mazie Hirono (D): 51
Charles Djou (R): 40
Undecided: 9

The poll also found that President Barack Obama has a 64 percent job approval rating. Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s job approval rating, however, was 48 percent.

Checks

March 29th, 2011
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The state Council on Revenues today lowered the revenue forecast for the fiscal year, not because of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan or the unrest in Africa and the Middle East, but because of an unusual drop in tax collections in February.

The state collected about $315 million in February, substantially less than economists anticipated.

While the drop could be an anomaly, it could also mean the economy is not recovering as fast as economists believed.

Pearl Iboshi, an economist, and others on the council found the February figure hard to believe. She had a theory for the state Department of Taxation. “Is there a chance that there’s, uh, you know, lots of …”

“A drawer there with a bunch of checks in it?” University of Hawaii-Manoa economist Carl Bonham said.

“Yes, lots of checks,” Iboshi said.

“That somebody forgot to open because everything slowed down?” Bonham said.

A state Department of Taxation staffer slowly nodded her head.

“There is a chance of that?” Jack Suyderhoud, a University of Hawaii-Manoa business economics professor, asked the staffer. “Is that why you’re going like that?”

“That’s not saying yes, but …” Bonham said.

Draft Tammy

March 29th, 2011
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When asked on PBS’ Insights program last month on who he thought would make a good successor to U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka upon his retirement, U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye rattled off familiar names 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 former Congressman Ed Case and then threw out the name of Tammy Duckworth, the McKinley High School graduate and Iraq war veteran who is Assistant Secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Duckworth does not live in Hawaii, but apparently enjoys a following, as evidenced by an Internet campaign trying to get her into the race: http://drafttammy.com.

The site points out that it is not affiliated or paid for by Duckworth, it is simply to express support for her potential candidacy. No word on who started the site.

To date, Duckworth has not indicated any desire to seek the Senate seat from Hawaii. She previously ran for a U.S. House seat in Illinois in 2006 and lost.

Excess

March 28th, 2011
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While state lawmakers keep alive a proposal to scoop some of the City & County of Honolulu’s money from the general excise tax surcharge for rail, City Council members are declaring their wishes for the Legislature to not only leave the money where it is, but to give back whatever the state doesn’t need for administration of the tax.

The City Council’s Safety, Economic Development & Government Affairs Committee today adopted Resolution 11-91, urging the state to amend the law to reduce the amount collected by the state for administration.

By law, the state diverts 10 percent of the funds collected by the half-percent surcharge for the costs of assessment, collection and disposition of the surcharge.

Resolution 11-91 was introduced by Councilman Tom Berg, who estimates the loss to the city at about $18 million a year. Said Berg:

“The skimming off the top is unjust and unwarranted.  … [W]e owe it to taxpayers to be pennywise with this multi-billion dollar project, rather than allowing it to be continually exploited for extra monies by a cash-hungry state government.  By profiteering off the rail project, the State has been acting in bad faith.”

The committee adopted the non-binding resolution 5-0. Full text of the resolution below:

Reso 11-91

GOV100

March 28th, 2011
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State department directors and other staff made pitches today to the Senate Ways and Means Committee to add spending that was left out of the House version of the budget.

Among the most interesting – and pointed – testimony came from Amy Asselbaye, Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s chief of staff.

Asselbaye said she had “grave reservations” about the House draft because it would leave the governor’s office with about $1.9 million in general fund money a year, instead of the $3.5 million the governor requested.

Asselbaye said the House budget would either force layoffs of 25 of the governor’s staffers or a halt in operations for half the fiscal year. She said lawmakers should not short-change the public on basic government services.

We cannot continue cutting government and then act surprised and outraged when things don’t work.

`Sufficient new tax revenues’

March 27th, 2011
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Gov. Neil Abercrombie today put out the first of what his staff says will be weekly messages, challenging people to get behind his New Day budget.

But while the governor outlines broad goals, he does not offer a detailed plan to close the immediate budget deficit facing the state this fiscal year or in the following two-year budget cycle.

The governor talks about passing a budget with sufficient new tax revenues, but he does not explain what taxes should be raised or created. Instead, he warns against bickering over details.

We must commit ourselves 100 percent to solve our fiscal crisis and focus on economic growth. If we pass a plan with sufficient new tax revenues that commits everyone to do their fair share, we can be thriving in two years, maybe less. If we don’t commit entirely—if we choose instead to nickel and dime ourselves—our recovery will stall or even recede.

And if we do nothing—if we decide to just get by and stand still for yet another year—then not only will nothing change but we risk sinking further into pessimism and civic decline.

We do not have to settle for the status quo. We cannot get bogged down by the petty political story of the day. We can’t be stuck in the weeds, bickering over one detail or another, pointing fingers at each other.

Our time is now. We need everyone to reach out to their family, friends, legislators, and community to make it known that we want a New Day. Have faith in one another; help one another. Together, let’s commit to the New Day plan, pass a budget that will get the job done, reinvest in ourselves, and move forward with purpose and pride. If we all share the burden, we will all share a bright Hawai’i future.