Archive for December, 2011

Social media

December 29th, 2011
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The state Senate has adopted a social media policy, making the chamber among only a few in the nation with formal guidance to lawmakers and staff on new media.

The policy urges senators to limit the use of the Senate’s social media for personal reasons during normal business hours. Content shared through social media should focus on the Legislature and current events and should be factually accurate. Messages should not include information or comments that are:

*violent, obscene, profane, hateful or racist

*personal attacks or abusive

*threatening, slanderous or defamatory

*solicitations, endorsements, or promotions of products or services of any financial, commercial or non-governmental agency

*suggestive or encouragement of illegal activity

*sexual

*discriminatory

*confidential or personal

The Senate communications office will manage social media and regularly monitor content.

Senate officers and employees who fail to comply with the social media policy may face discipline.

RNCman

December 28th, 2011
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Two prominent Republicans are competing for Hawaii’s Republican National Committeeman slot after Brennon Morioka stepped down.

Ted Liu, a former director of the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, is up against Willes Lee, a former state party chairman.

Liu has the backing of former Gov. Linda Lingle’s dominant faction within the party. Lee has been a voice for Republicans critical of the party’s leadership and financial management.

The GOP’s state committee is expected to vote in January.

Miriam Hellreich is the Republican National Committeewoman.

*Update: Liu won.

Fast track

December 27th, 2011
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State House and Senate leaders might fast-track an organ transplant center bill and eight others when the next session of the state Legislature opens in January.

The bills were unrelated casualties of end-of-session negotiations between the House and Senate over tax policy.

Here are the bills under consideration:

*SB239: Extends the ability of the University of Hawaii medical school to use a portion of tobacco settlement money for operating expenses.

*SB 699 – Establishes filing fees to help fund the state Office of Environmental Quality Control.

*SB 725 – Increases the solid waste management surcharge to 75 cents per ton, up from 35 cents. Applies the surcharge to waste disposed in state or shipped out of state.

*SB 772 – Expands an ethanol facility income tax credit to include other biofuels and larger facilities.

*SB 809 – Increases the University of Hawaii’s authorization to issue revenue bonds for capital improvement projects.

*HB 608 – Authorizes state money – matched by private funds — for an organ transplant center.

*HB 905 – Requires the state to collaborate with health and social-service providers on an annual health and human services delivery plan.

*HB 1570 – Appropriates money to reimburse livestock producers for feed costs. Allows goat farmers with at least 25 lactating milk goats to be eligible for the livestock revitalization program.

*HB 1322 – Converts certain revolving funds at the University of Hawaii into special funds.

Roll back

December 22nd, 2011
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David Chang, the chairman of the state Republican Party, wants Gov. Neil Abercrombie and majority Democrats in the state Legislature to roll back the revenue increases used to balance the state budget now that the state is anticipating a surplus.

The primary source of new tax revenue is from the temporary suspension of general-excise tax exemptions on certain business activities. Chang said businesses are in many cases passing the costs of losing the tax exemptions on to consumers.

From the chairman:

Governor Abercrombie’s budget contains a $199 million surplus by the end of this fiscal year and $235 million by the end of the next fiscal year.  Where did this surplus come from?  From Hawaii’s hard-working families and businesses who had to shoulder an estimated $600 million in additional taxes over these two years, due to the tax increases passed this year by the Abercrombie administration and the legislature.

Out of that $600 million  tax increase, about $400 million is estimated to come from increased general excise taxes on contractors, businesses that sublease, airlines and others – most of which gets passed-on to Hawaii’s consumers and businesses as increased costs.

The impact of the tax increases on the state budget was acknowledged by the Hawaii Council on Revenues (COR) at its latest meeting on September 6, 2011.   COR increased its forecast for State General Fund tax revenue growth for the current fiscal year from 11.0 percent to 14.5 percent and for the next fiscal year from 6.0 percent to 6.5 percent, noting “[T]he increases in the forecasts for tax revenue growth in FY’s 2012 and 2013 were mostly due to new tax laws that have gone into effect this fiscal year. Without the expected revenue increase of the new tax laws the forecast for FY 2012 would have been lowered to 9.5 percent, due to uncertainties about the economy and about the number of visitors [emphasis added].”

In this weak national and state economy, working families and small businesses are struggling to make ends meet or to make payroll.  Increasing costs, such as additional taxes, only makes things worse.  Now government wants to spend that additional tax.  We believe instead, the Abercrombie administration and the legislature should roll-back the tax increases and government should live within its means.

Republicans believe that the best budget surpluses come from increased efficiencies in government services and lower taxes and regulatory burdens that allow economic activity resulting in increased government revenues.  Only when we grow the Hawaii economy, can our working families achieve an increased standard of living.

Action plan

December 21st, 2011
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President Barack Obama will have to come up with an action plan to address the economic impact of Pacific migration in Hawaii and other states and U.S. territories.

The requirement is part of an appropriations bill approved by Congress. Within 45 days, the president must convene a committee to develop the action plan.

Under the federal Compact of Free Association, the United States provides economic assistance to the Pacific islands and migrants from the Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau can come to the U.S. and its territories and are eligible for certain programs. The U.S., in return, has military access to the Pacific islands. The U.S. previously conducted Cold War-era weapons testing in the region.

Hawaii has estimated that the cost of providing education, health care and other services to Pacific migrants was $115 million in 2010, up from $32 million in 2002. Members of the state’s congressional delegation have sought help from the federal government to cover migration costs.

“While we continue to abide by the conditions outlined by our existing agreement with the governments of Palau, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands we can no longer absorb the brunt of caring for their communities alone,” U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, said in a statement.

“We stand by our neighbors in the Pacific residing in Hawaii but we need increased federal funds and more support from their resident governments to see to it that they continue to receive the quality of education and health care enjoyed by all Americans.  We have long enjoyed a fruitful and cooperative relationship through the compact and look forward to expanding and improving that relationship.”

Defense

December 20th, 2011
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State Senate President Shan Tsutsui, in an guest column submitted to the Star-Advertiser, defends a successful bond sale by the Abercrombie administration in November against attacks by former Lingle administration officials that the gains from the sale are misleading.

Tsutsui (D, Wailuki-Kahului), who used to oversee the budget for state construction projects in the Senate, described the criticism from the Lingle camp as “careless, irresponsible and terribly misleading.”

In particular, he said Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s decision to ask lawmaker approval to tap the state’s rainy day and hurricane relief funds to get through the last fiscal year was because of a deficit he inherited from former Gov. Linda Lingle. The governor has asked lawmakers to use some of the proceeds of the bond sale to replenish the emergency funds.

From Tsutsui:

Secondly, an indictment was made against the use of Hurricane Relief and Rainy Day funds to help balance the State budget and, perhaps more importantly, that the repayment of these monies is to come from funds borrowed by the bond sale.

However, what the former Lingle Administration members fail to acknowledge is the fact that the need for the use of Hurricane Relief and Rainy Day funds was necessary to close out the Lingle Administration’s FY11 budget, a problem inherited and not created by the Abercrombie Administration. Governor Abercrombie’s decision to use those funds was also coupled with the strong commitment to restore those funds, a commitment that he has already undertaken.

Also, despite what has been depicted, it is my understanding that the recapitalization of the Rainy Day Fund and the Hurricane Relief Fund is not from monies derived from additional long-term debt, as some that are apparently unfamiliar with the details of the transaction, have misstated. Instead, the monies are the result of additional proceeds from the bond sale. The strength of Hawaii’s transaction actually allowed for the bonds to be sold at a premium collecting more than $100 million in additional proceeds– meaning, that the State was able to collect $900 million in funds while garnering $800 million in debt. That additional $100 million represents investors’ strong desire to invest in Hawaii’s future and, therefore, it is prudent to use this unanticipated revenue to recapitalize the reserves. The result of the transaction in this one area alone is reason to celebrate.

Rebrand

December 19th, 2011
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Gov. Neil Abercrombie on Monday repeated his promise to replenish the state’s rainy day and hurricane relief funds, which he drained to get through the last fiscal year.

Some lawmakers have talked about possibly rebranding the hurricane relief fund, a pool of money that has functioned as a cash reserve in the past decade since the state’s hurricane insurance program for homeowners ended.

Insurance commissions have advised that lawmakers keep about $70 million in the fund to help the state purchase reinsurance in the event private insurers flee after another hurricane, like they did after Hurricane Iniki in 1992. But the roughly $180 million that had been left over in the fund the past decade — and was tapped to help end teacher furloughs on classroom instruction days and balance the budget — was meant to be transferred to the general fund.

Credit-rating agencies that judge the state’s finances consider cash reserves like the hurricane relief fund an important safety net.

Kalbert Young, the state’s budget director, said the name of the fund is not significant. He said the administration wants to replenish the money to help maintain a healthy cash reserve.

Stillwater

December 16th, 2011
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Good government groups have warned about the increasing influence of money in state House and Senate campaigns  — at one point referring to the potential for a “tsunami” of campaign contributions — but state campaign-finance statistics continue to tell a more stable story.

State Senate candidates raised $1.7 million and spent $1.5 million during the 2010 elections, according to the state Campaign Spending Commission, down from the $2.2 million raised and $1.8 million spent in 2008.

In 1994, Senate candidates raised $1.4 million and spent $1.2 million.

A similar pattern has played out in state House campaigns.

House candidates raised $3 million and spent $3 million in 2010, according to the commission, raising slightly less than the $3.1 million raised and spending more than the $2.5 million spent in 2008.

In 1994, House candidates raised $3.4 million and spent $2.5 million.

The statistics show that fundraising and campaign spending have not increased substantially in state House and Senate races since the mid-1990s.  While political insiders who work on campaigns say money is important, it has much less weight than in gubernatorial or federal elections. Other factors, such as party and labor union endorsements and grassroots organization, can have significant influence on campaigns.

First in

December 14th, 2011
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Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul have entered the Republican presidential caucuses in Hawaii set for March 13.

David Chang, the party’s chairman, said representatives from former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s campaign have also called and shown interest.

State Republicans have converted to a presidential caucus system for awarding delegates in the hopes of growing the party. Voters have to join the GOP to participate in the caucuses.

Tops

December 13th, 2011
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U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono was first in earmarks in the House during fiscal year 2010, while then-U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie — now governor — was third, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Hirono had 67 earmarks worth more than $149 million. Abercrombie had 51 earmarks worth more than $138 million. But most of the earmarks from the Hawaii Democrats were co-sponsored with other lawmakers. Hirono had only four earmarks worth $1.1 million where she was the sole sponsor. Abercrombie had seven earmarks worth $13.3 million where he was the sole sponsor

U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, was second in earmarks in the Senate. The Senate President Pro Tempore had 158 earmarks worth more than $392 million. The senior senator had 66 earmarks worth $251 million where he was the sole sponsor, second only to the late U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W. Va.