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Commentary – Saddle Road Improvements Will Pay Dividends for Years to Come

The Hawaii Department of Transportation and the Central Federal Lands
Highway Division recently dedicated the east side Saddle Road phase.

Former Kona Blog Owner Aaron Stene has followed this project through numerous administrations and probably knows more about this project than most of the folks that actually constructed the road.

This new highway is a huge improvement over the old roadway that meandered through upper Kaumana. The latter had a lot of safety deficiencies and didn’t meet modern highway standards.

The new highway between m.m 5.67 and m.m 11.71 meets all modern highway standards, and completes a critical thoroughfare linking West and East Hawaii.

The Hawaii Department of Transportation, Central Federal Lands Highway
Division, and their contractor, Road and Highway Builders LLC have a lot of to be proud of. They were able to deliver a modern highway on time, under budget, and were able to fulfill late Senator Dan Inouye’s’ vision. In addition, the CFLHD did a great job informing the public of project updates on a monthly basis during the construction phase.

The CFLHD project engineer, who oversaw this final phase, was always available if I had any specific project related questions. Other ongoing highway projects on this island should take a cue from the CFLHD’s efforts to keep the public informed about this particular project.

The core Saddle Road improvement project is now finished with the completion of this final phase. However, I hope the HDOT and CFLHD proceed with the Saddle Road extension, which will extend Saddle Road to Queen Kaahumanu Highway in West Hawaii.

It took roughly 13 years, and over 300 million dollars, to reconstruct, and realign, about 45 miles of Saddle Road, but it was totally worth all the effort and time. This improved highway will be paying dividends for this island for years to come.

Aaron Stene
Kailua-Kona

Commentary – Were Pahoa High and Intermediate Lunch Times Shortened Because of a Fight?

Yesterday, KHON2 News ran a news story about Pahoa’s lunches being shortened.

…Changes to the lunch program at a Hawaii island school prompted parents to reach out to us, saying their kids are being rushed to eat.

Their kids go to Pahoa High and Intermediate School, which recently started a pilot lunch program.
High school students eat during the normal 30-minute lunch break, but intermediate school students eat during recess, which is just 15 minutes long…

I received the following message on Wednesday indicating that this change in policy may have stemmed from a fight on campus… but didn’t discuss it further with the person sending me the information until tonight:

Aloha Damon, I wanted to bring something to your attention that maybe you could do some investigative reporting. Apparently Pahoa High and Intermediate administration has decided to have Intermediate student only eat lunch during first recess which is 15 minutes while the high school eats during regular lunch which is 30 minutes. When I complained to the principal she stated it was due to decreasing tardys to class during lunch time. An insider told me they did it because of a fight that occurred between a Intermediate kid and a high schooler.

When discussing this with friends on Facebook, one person posted a picture from the Pahoa Cafeteria:

My kids say they don’t even bother eating when this is what they are serving at Pahoa. ~VW

“This was what they call Baja fish taco SMH. This was on Wednesday when we went to school for student of the month luncheon I was In Shock when he came to the table with this…Home lunches from now on!!!” said Valerie Walsh.

Got Baja Fish Taco? I don’t know if I could swallow this in 15 minutes… less yet an hour!!!

Statement by George D. Szigeti, President and CEO, Hawaii Tourism Authority

George D. Szigeti, president and CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA), issued the following statement commenting on Hawaii’s visitor statistics results for August 2017.

George D. Szigeti

“Knowing summer is the peak period for leisure travel globally, our State’s tourism industry partners deserve a collective thank you for how they continued to elevate Hawaii as a premier destination experience in August. The solid increases in visitor spending reported for all four major islands was a notable highlight.

“Two key economic figures for the first eight months of 2017 reveal how fortunate our State’s tourism industry has been this year. Through August 2017, visitor spending statewide is at $11.34 billion and the State tax revenue generated by tourism is $1.32 billion.

“By comparison, when Hawaii was starting to emerge from the Great Recession in 2010, the tourism industry realized $11.01 billion in total visitor spending and generated $1.05 billion in State tax revenue for the entire year. With four months to go in 2017, our tourism industry has already surpassed both of the full-year totals from just seven years ago.

“The natural disasters that struck Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean Islands these past few weeks remind us again that we can never take tourism in Hawaii for granted, and that our State’s future well-being could be suddenly altered. Going forward, we must strive for a balance that allows Hawaii’s tourism industry to continue thriving while seeking sustainable solutions that perpetuate culture, preserve natural resources and supports the quality of life we all want.”

Mayor Harry Kim Opposed to Permanent Cap on Counties’ Transient Accommodation Tax


Testimony by Harry Kim, Mayor, County of Hawai’i before Senate Ways & Means Re: SB 4:

The County of Hawai’i opposes the permanent cap on the counties’ share of the Transient Accommodation Tax (TAT). This cap is unnecessary to achieve all other aspects of the bill to finance Honolulu’s rail. The bill proposes to finance rail by extending the General Excise Tax (GET) surcharge period to 12/31/2030, increasing the share of the surcharge that goes to rail by decreasing the administrative charge retained by the State, and increasing the TAT rate by 1% and dedicating all of that increase to rail. There is no reason related to rail financing to cap the share of the TAT to the counties.

A cap on the counties’ TAT share is contrary to the Legislature’s own working group report and the original intent of the TAT tax summarized as follows:

  • Working Group Recommendation. The working group recommended the Tourism Special Fund receive $82 million in FY 2016 and increase in subsequent years in line with the Consumer Price Index for Honolulu, $31 million constant for the Convention Center-Turtle Bay-Special Land Develop Fund, and the remainder split between the State and counties at 55% for the State and 45% for the counties. Based on total TAT revenues in 2016 of $444 million, the $103,000,000 cap represents 31% of the remainder of the TAT after allocations to the Tourism Special Fund ($82 million) and the Convention Center-Turtle Bay-Special Land Development Fund ($33 million). As a result of the cap, the counties’ share will only get worse as tourism grows.
  • Nexus to Tourism Services. The incidence of the TAT is primarily on visitors, so the TAT tax revenues should fund public services which benefit visitors. The UH Economic Research Organization (UHERO) estimated that the counties pay for 53% of the services for which visitors directly benefit (UHERO Working Paper No. 2016-4). These services include police and fire protection, rescue, parks, beaches, water, roads, and sewer systems.
  • Act 185 (1990). Recognizing that “many of the burdens imposed by tourism falls on the counties,” the legislature created the TAT as a “more equitable method of sharing state revenues with the counties” (Conference Committee Report 207 on HB No. 1148). The legislature deemed at that time that the fair allocation was 95% of the total TAT revenues to the counties.

The State has multiple sources of revenues. The counties only have property tax, motor vehicle weight tax, and public utility franchise tax. Our out-of-control homeless problems are a symptom of the soaring cost to rent or own a home in Hawai’i. And you want to offer us the power to increase the GET tax, the most regressive form of taxation that impacts the lower income the greatest. We already had to increase our property tax to make ends meet. With the collective bargaining decisions dominated by the State, we again will face possible increases. We ask only for our fair share as recommended by the Working Group, to maintain quality services that uphold the tourism industry and affordability for our people.

Discussion of Issues Relating to Special Session on Rail Funding, By Chairman of Maui’s County Council

The Chairman for the Maui County Council, Mike White, sent me the following document entitled “Discussion of Issues Relating to Special Session on Rail Funding:”


Mike White, Chairman of Maui County Council

Both the Hawaii State Association of Counties (HSAC) and the Hawaii Council of Mayors (HCOM) stand in support of the position to fund rail by extending the .5% GET surcharge.

  • The Proposal extends the GET surcharge for just three years to 2030.
  • The $1.3 billion raised by the TAT increase would be unnecessary if the GET was extended through 2033. The 3 additional years of surcharge would generate the same $1.3 Billion.
  • If the use of TAT fails the stress test of the Federal Transit Authority and is disqualified as a source to fund rail, will the TAT increase be reversed?

The promise to make permanent the $103 million to the Counties is questionable.

  • The Legislature’s history on keeping promises is weak. We all know that any action taken by today’s body can be reversed in any future session.
  • There was a promise that the 2% increase in TAT after the recession in 2008 would sunset after 5 years. It is not likely it will ever sunset.
  • The $103 million to the Counties still falls short in terms of the Counties being awarded their fair share.

There was hope that the recommendations of State-County Working Group would be taken seriously

  • The Counties’ share of the TAT would have been $184 million this past year if the legislature accepted the findings of the working group they established.
  • The working Group found that Counties provided 56% of visitor related expenditures from State or County general funds
  • Counties were willing to accept the lower 45% share compromise reached in the working group.
  • The Legislature has ignored the Working Group findings, maintained the cap and taken all of the increased revenue.

The State has already grown their share of the TATsignificantly.

  • TheState has increased its share of TAT from $17.1 million to $291.1 million since 2007
  • Since then the Counties share has dropped to $93 million, a loss of $7.8 million
  • The cost of Police, Fire and Parks departments in the four counties has increased by $264 million while Counties share has been reduced.
  • Without a rate increase State share will likely increase to $326 million in FY2018
  • With a 1% rate increase, State share will likely increase by another $58 million to $384 million.

Distribution to Local governments of taxes generated from Lodging Revenues

  • Nationwide, taxes on lodging have been established to cover the cost of services and infrastructure needed to support the visitors.
  • Nationwide, 67% of ALL taxes (GET & TAT) on Lodging revenue go to the local government.
  • In Hawaii, only 14% of GET & TAT generated is given to local Governments
  • The Hawaii TAT accounts for about 68% of the taxes on lodging. If we were to get the Average Local government share we would get almost all of the current TAT revenue.

Hawaii is not the only small state with large expenditures on Education and other government functions, but tax distribution is very different.

  • With similar populations to Hawaii, state expenditures on education in West Virginia and Idaho are close to Hawaii’s.
  • When Hawaii spent $1.6 billion or 23% of its General Fund (GF) on education, Idaho spent $1.6 billion (51% of GF)and West Virginia spent $1.9 billion (43% of GF) on education.
  • West Virginia has a 6% state sales tax and a 6% room tax (TAT)on lodging revenue. All proceeds from the 6% room tax go to the local government.
  • Idaho also has a 6% state sales tax and authorizes local government to impose “local option” taxes on lodging accommodations, drinks by-the-glass, retail sales, etc. The total taxes in resort areas appear to be about 12%. The state receives the 6% sales tax and the local government receives the rest.
  • This type of comparison deserves a closer look if we hope to bring a stronger sense of “partnership” to the relationship between our state and counties.

Our Legislators push the counties to increase property taxes instead of asking for more TAT.

  • Hawaii has lower property tax rates, but significantly higher home values.
  • Hawaii’s median home value is 5 times higher than West Virginia and three time higher than Idaho.
  • Even with lower rates, the average tax on the median home value is $1,430 in Hawaii vs $1,250 in Idaho and $660 in West Virginia.
  • Hawaii property taxes represent 2.1% of median household income. This compares to 2.6% in Idaho and 1.5% in West Virginia.

Neighbor Islands are again being offered the opportunity to pass the same .5% GET Surcharge for our transportation needs.

  • The concern that the neighbor islands have had for years is that once we pass the GET surcharge, the Legislature will take away ALL of our TAT revenue.
  • Some of us have been told directly over the years that this is their intension.
  • The Neighbor Islands favor keeping a visitor-generated TAT to pay for visitor–related services. It makes no sense to shift the cost of visitor services to our resident population through either GET or property taxes when the visitors have already paid their fair share.
  • The GET generated by the .5% surcharge would be just slightly higher than the amount of TAT we are currently getting.

Impact of TAT on Neighbor Islands

  • Oahu occupancy rates are 10 points ahead of Maui, 13 ahead of Kauai and nearly 20 points ahead of Big Island
  • From CY 2006 to CY 2016, Oahu GET base grew by 15% while Neighbor Islands remain below 2006 levels
  • One percent increase in TAT would remove over $30 million from our Neighbor Island communities and economies.

State should work on ensuring all TAT taxing options and compliance issues are addressed before simply increasing the rate

  • The State is not receiving a significant portion of the TAT revenue even though the visitors are paying the TAT or an equivalent.Amend TAT statute to ensure collection of taxes from accommodation remarketers instead of just operators.  Maui County has drafted a bill to correct the problem, and it will likely be part of the HSAC package. $60-80 million in added revenue.
  • Increase the basis of the calculation of TOT on Timeshares from 50% of maintenance fee to a higher percentage.
  • Work with Counties to ensure vacation rentals are operating legally and paying both State and county taxes. Maui County will be contracting with internet service that will identify location and ownership of rentals being advertised on the internet.
  • Instead of TAT, evaluate a Rhode Island-type 1% tax on food and beverages consumed at restaurants, bars and hotels. Restaurant Association estimates the Hawaii base at $4.6 billion. $46 million in added tax revenue

Tax Review Commission recommendations would increase revenues by over $300 million per year

  • Not all the recommendations are popular
  • Sugary beverage tax of $.02 per ounce – $50 million
  • Increase collection of taxes on e-commerce/online retail sales – $30-40 million

Mike White,
Maui County Council Chairman

President of Hawai’i Island Chamber of Commerce Statement on Pending Special Session on Honolulu Rail Project

Hawai‘i Island State Representatives and Senators

Re: Honolulu Area Rapid Transit system funding

Dear Representatives and Senators,

From August 28 to September 1 the Hawai‘i Legislature will be in session to assist the City and County of Honolulu with the capital for funding the Honolulu Area Rapid Transit system. We thank you for this opportunity to voice our concern and opinion in this matter.

We understand that the Legislature will be considering proposals including:

  • Maintaining the current general excise tax (“GET”) rate premium for applicable Oahu transactions through 2037.
  • Increasing the transient accommodations tax (“TAT”) rate for applicable services on Oahu.
  • Increasing the TAT rate for applicable services on all islands
  • Assessing premium GET taxes on a statewide basis.

The Hawai‘i Island Chamber of Commerce strongly recommends funding the capital shortfall for the Honolulu Area Rapid Transit system by extending the GET for transactions in the City and County of Honolulu only. We note the following:

  • Uncomfortable as it is to point out, the shortfall is primarily the result of management decisions made by an agency of the City and County of Honolulu. Neighbor islands were not part of either the management or the process. Asking the residents and visitors of the neighbor islands to pay for this process gone awry is not reasonable. Services provided by HART will be provided only on Oahu benefitting primarily Oahu residents and not the residents of the neighbor islands. We believe any impact should be borne by the future users of HART.
  • A major argument against simply allowing the GET on Oahu to continue is that this tax is regressive. However, this argument glosses over several economic realities that businesses face every day. Taxes of any kind increase the total price paid by the buyer. Higher prices for any good or service result in some level of reduced demand – if not for that service, for other services where those dollars may have been spent:
  1. While we do not know the number of travelers who will choose not to travel to Hawaii because of a higher TAT – there is no doubt that at the margin some will choose not to come here or to delay a trip.
  2. Some of those who do come will find that they must curtail their spending while here in order to stay within their budget.

In either of these cases, the dollars spent on goods and services in Hawaii will be reduced. The ripple effect of reduced spending will be a reduction in employee hours (and jobs) absorbed almost exclusively by employees at the lowest rung on the employment ladder. In short, these employees will suffer by losing income much more dramatically than they would if the current 0.5% premium in GET taxes is maintained on Oahu.

Beyond this, there is the simple equity issue. Should we be charging those who have no vote (tourists) for services that they are not likely to use – simply because they have no vote? This is not the right decision.

  • Finally, the City and County of Honolulu – most affected by Rail – has stated firmly that its choice is to fund by extending the GET through 2037. If that is their choice, it is not clear to us why we should over reach to further manage their decision.

Sincerely,
Bill Walter, President

Commentary – National Park Service & Queen Kaahumanu Highway Frontage Road

The Kona Community Development Plan has a frontage road going from Honokohau Harbor to Kona Int’l Airport alongside Queen Kaahumanu Highway. One of the segments is completed, and another should be completed within the next three months. These are being constructed by NELHA and the Kohanaiki Shores development.

Aerial View of Kaloko Fishpond at Kaloko-Honokohau National Park

The three remaining unfinished roadway segments go through Hawaii Department of Transportation, privately owned, and Kaloko-Honokohau National Park lands. One of these landowners, the National Park Service, will pose a challenge to completing the entire frontage road. They’ve stated a road can’t bisect the park because it will negatively impact the park’s resources.

I respect the National Park Service’s concerns, but extending this roadway between Kohanaiki Shores to Kealakehe Parkway could be a win-win for the park and the community. If this road is constructed, it will eventually give the community an alternative route between the airport and Honokohau Harbor.

This road will also help in traffic circulation and provide an alternative route if there is a traffic accident on Queen Kaahumanu Highway. It will also help the National Park Service by providing better accessibility to park resources and allow them to do more interpretive outreach with park visitors. This would be particularly effective if this proposed roadway follows the alignment of the Ala Mamalahoa Trail through the park.

The National Park Service’s opposition towards this roadway extension can’t be understated, but I propose these following conditions to allay their longstanding concerns. The roadway segment going through the National Park would limited to two lanes with narrow shoulders to reduce its footprint on the sensitive historical resources.  In addition, a thorough analysis of these potential alignments should be conducted. The alignment with the least impact on historical and environmental resources should be selected.

Aaron Stene
Kailua-Kona

Guest Commentary – Audit the Honolulu Rail Project

Dear Damon,

When the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii first kicked off our “Audit the Rail” campaign, we had a feeling the idea would catch on.

Over the summer, we’ve seen respected voices across the state join the chorus.

At the outset, we did some digging and uncovered the fact that several HART board members supported a forensic audit of the rail.

Following that, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser published a story echoing our call to audit the rail explicitly for fraud, waste and abuse.

Then, Honolulu Councilmember Trevor Ozawa introduced a resolution to perform a special audit of the rail. Since then, at least four other Honolulu Council members have endorsed an audit.

And now, state legislators are floating the idea of auditing the rail, according to a presentation leaked to the press last week.

As influential voices across the state join the Grassroot Institute’s call to audit the rail, we intend to continue making a reasoned case for a full forensic audit.

If you have not yet signed our petition, please do so at AuditTheRail.com and share this e-mail with your friends.

Mahalo for helping this idea to catch on.

E Hana Kakou (Let’s work together!),

Keli’i Akina, Ph.D.
President/CEO Grassroots Institute of Hawaii

Guest Commentary – Hawaii Rail Fiasco… What They Don’t Want You to Know

You posted (on Facebook) an interesting article on Civil Beat in regards to the Rail Project: Lawmakers Consider Having Neighbor Islands Help Pay for Oahu’s Troubled Rail Project

What you and most fail to realize is that our House representatives on this island already voted YES to have the neighbor islands pay for rail, including our island and NO ONE called them out or held them accountable.

SB1183 is what deadlocked at the end of session because the House and Senate disagreed on the funding mechanism for the rail project.

This is the link to the HOUSE amendment to the bill that passed the House and was voted on by our representatives.

http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/session2017/bills/SB1183_HCD2_.htm

The bottom line:

They voted for a increase to the TAT of 10.25% (an increase of 1%) statewide, with 100% of the proceeds going to rail and they voted to CAP the TAT distribution to the counties at $103 million to 2028.

How does the $103 million cap affect Hawaii County? Hawaii County gets 18.6% of that cap which is approximately $18 million. However, HI County should be getting almost $40 million from the TAT if it was, prior to 2009, apportioned fairly through a percentage based allocation. The State capped the Counties during the recession and has never restored it to a percentage based amount. Effectively, HI County is getting robbed every year of its fair share of TAT by the State, $22 million could pay for ALLOT of stuff on our island, busses etc..

Who voted for that? 100% of HI Islands House membership, every single one.

Now, we are going back into special session and the House has the same game plan, increase TAT statewide and this time, even worse, cap the Counties at $93 million, instead of $103 million.

If their is not enough public awareness on our island or pressure from their constituents, they will vote the same way. They don’t want anyone to know what I just shared with you, but it is all public information, just no one caught it.

But now you know…

A Concerned Citizen

Guest Commentary – Public Works Director Decides to Retire… Management Style Didn’t Work

Frank DeMarco, the current Hawaii County Public Works director, has decided to retire.

Frank DeMarco

This action allows Mayor Kim to select a new director for this key county department. I hope he selects someone with a strong rapport with the public and won’t treat concerned citizens, such as myself, like an enemy of the state.

Mr. DeMarco has a military background, and tried to run this critical department as a military unit with a chain of command structure. His management style obviously didn’t work very well and caused a lot of unnecessary issues. I was caught in the cross hairs of one of his ill advised decisions, which restricted me from communicating with anyone in the county public works department. I was able to get this directive somewhat amended, so I could at least go through the county public works public information officer. If this effort was unsuccessful, I’d be required to submit all inquires via postal mail directly to the mayor’s office.

The Department of Public Works is a key part of county government.  They’re responsible for approving building permits, and maintaining our roadway infrastructure.  It is imperative that the new director to be transparent and have strong rapport with the public at large. Anything less would go against Mayor Kim’s campaign pledge to bring trust and integrity to county government.

Aaron Stene

Commentary – Mayor Kim’s Administration Has Made Me Very Discouraged

Mayor Harry Kim’s administration has been in office roughly six months. The way I’ve been treated over this period of time has been nothing short of abysmal, and made me very discouraged about interacting with his administration about transportation issues. It isn’t very appealing to get a phone call from the mayor directly, who proceeds to yell at you over the phone and state that you don’t have the facts straight.

I would let this go if this was my only issue with Mayor Kim,  but it is not. February 6th, 2017 is a day I’ll remember for a very long time. The new Department of Public  Works director Frank DeMarco issued a sweeping  directive against me that stated I cannot talk to anyone at DPW, and would have submit all inquiries directly to the mayor’s office in writing.

I was able to get this directive somewhat amended, so I could go through the DPW public affairs officer. This made a very difficult situation more palatable, but I still couldn’t talk to the front line engineers that I established relationships with. Some of these engineers I’ve known for 10 years or more. As of a result of this ill-advised directive, I can’t communicate with these engineers going forward.

These actions by Frank DeMarco are a stark example that he intends to ignore public feedback regarding transportation issues. Warren Lee, the previous director, welcomed feedback from the public. He went as so far to take me on a tour of the construction of the Mamalahoa Highway bypass at one point.

I’ve helped DPW advance several West Hawaii transportation projects, which has established a favorable track record with these engineers. However, Frank DeMarco stated at council meeting on April 11th that I was making too many inquiries with DPW staff, which was causing problems for DPW and other county departments. This could be farther from the truth, along with being very hurtful.

I’ve lived in here Kailua-Kona over 41 years, and have had only the community’s best interest at heart.  These issues with Mayor Kim’s administration are far and beyond the biggest challenge that I’ve faced with a government entity. We should be working together to make this a better place as I have a lot to offer, but Mayor Kim’s administration insists on treating me like an enemy of the state instead.

Aaron Stene, Kailua-Kona

Editors note – Clip taken from the DPW Homepage. http://www.hawaiicounty.gov/public-works/

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Hawaii Delegation Calls For Department of Homeland Security to Halt Deportation of Kailua-Kona Farmer, Andres Magana Ortiz

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02) and the Hawaii congressional delegation today called on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to halt their impending action to deport Mr. Andres Magana Ortiz of Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. In a letter to DHS Secretary Kelly, Hawaii’s congressional delegation requested that the Department reverse its decision to act on a Final Order of Removal to deport Mr. Ortiz based on his attempt to gain legal status through his wife who is a U.S. citizen and his upstanding reputation living in Hawaii for over 28 years as a coffee farmer, business owner, taxpayer, and husband and father.

“Today we call on the Department of Homeland Security to suspend its order to deport Andres Magana Ortiz, and instead allow him to continue on his pathway towards legal status. Mr. Ortiz is an upstanding member of society in Hawaii and embodies the values that we embrace as Americans – hard work, family, and community. The deportation laws facing Mr. Ortiz were designed for dangerous criminals who pose a threat to our society; not law-abiding contributing members of our community. I hope Secretary Kelly will do everything in his power to halt Mr. Ortiz’s deportation proceedings,” said Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.

FULL LETTER:

Dear Secretary Kelly:

We are writing to request that your Department exercise its prosecutorial discretion and re-evaluate the request for a stay of removal for Mr. Andres Magana Ortiz of Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. We believe the particular circumstances of Mr. Magana Ortiz’ case merits the extraordinary grant of a stay.  Mr. Magana Ortiz is currently in the process of adjusting to legal status on the basis of his wife’s citizenship.  In other words, he is trying to do the right thing. Mr. Magana Ortiz is an upstanding member of our community and does not belong in the category of dangerous individuals who should be prioritized for deportation.  In fact, during his immigration proceedings, the government itself conceded that Mr. Magana Ortiz possesses good moral character.

We agree that persons that pose a threat to national security and public safety should be a priority for deportation proceedings. However, Mr. Magana Ortiz poses no such threat to national security or public safety and therefore should not be a priority for removal. Rather, it is in our national interest for Mr. Magana Ortiz to remain in the United States where he can continue to work, pay taxes, and raise his family.

The Department has the authority under 8 CFR 241.6 to issue an administrative stay of removal—essentially, to decide whether to keep families together or tear them apart—and in 2014 Mr. Magana Ortiz received a stay. At that time, presumably the Department found his arguments compelling and consistent with federal law, which has not changed. He filed subsequent stays, one of which was not acted upon by the Department, and another that was denied in March of this year. As a result of this denial, Mr. Magana Ortiz received a Final Order of Removal and has been ordered to report to ICE for deportation on Thursday, June 8, 2017.

The Department’s most recent denial wastes the government’s time and resources on proceedings for an individual who poses no threat to our nation, while a parallel proceeding that could resolve the issue remains open. In 2015, Mr. Magana Ortiz’s wife filed an I-130 Relative Petition for Alien Relative. According to the District Court’s record, this petition was filed in September of 2015 but receipt had not been acknowledged by the Department until March 29, 2016. Given that this avenue is still open and unresolved and has taken what appears to be an extraordinarily long time, we fail to see the value in the Department’s aggressive approach to Mr. Magana Ortiz’s deportation.

In his concurring opinion to the denial of the motion, Judge Stephen Reinhardt noted that Mr. Magana Ortiz entered the United States from Mexico in 1989, at the age of fifteen, and has since built a house, started his own business, paid taxes, married a U.S. citizen, and had three U.S. citizen children. He wrote that Mr. Magana Ortiz is by all accounts “a pillar of his community and a devoted father and husband.” Judge Reinhardt further stated that deportation would deprive Mr. Magana Ortiz’ children of a parent and source of financial support, and possibly of a home and an opportunity for education, unless they follow him to Mexico, a country where they have never lived, and where they do not speak the language.

The Department has the power to keep this family together, or to break them apart. Given the urgent nature of Mr. Magana Ortiz’ situation, we request that you exercise prosecutorial discretion by granting a stay of relief.  In addition, we ask that you expedite review of his wife’s I-130 petition.

Thank you for your prompt consideration of this request.

Commentary: Councilwoman Ruggles “Call to Action” on Gas Tax Increases

Help to protect Puna and low-middle income families from having to pay more at the pump.

Mayor Kim is proposing a 261% increase to the fuel tax over the next 2 years. Fuel taxes are an especially regressive type of tax and will disproportionately affect Puna residents. We need to explore other options for raising revenue, and need the public to have their voices heard.

Details: Tomorrow evening, May 31st at 5 pm  at the Hilo Council Chambers (25 Aupuni st.) the County Council will consider this increase, and you can testify from any satellite council locations as well, including the Pahoa Neighborhood facility (15-2710 Kauhale Street Pāhoa). The proposal will double fuel taxes from 8.8 cents per gallon to 19 cents beginning July, and then increase it to 23 cents by 2019.

Why I am Opposed to Increasing the Fuel Tax:

1) Fuel tax is regressive:
If the entire population pays the same rate of taxes and there are no exemptions or tax credits, then residents of  a lower socio-economic status are, by default, paying a higher percentage of their income towards that tax than individuals earning a higher income. Thus, a family of 4 living on $30k annually will be more affected by a raise than a family of 4 living on $200k annually.

2) Puna Residents will be disproportionately burdened:
We will be disproportionately burdened because we will be paying a greater percentage in fuel taxes while simultaneously receiving the least benefit from the tax:

A. Puna has the highest  percentage of people living below the federal poverty level in the state of Hawaii. Thus, more people in Puna will be negatively affected by this regressive tax than people in other districts.

B. The majority of Puna residents must drive long distances for food, work, college, and doctor’s appointments, etc. On average, Puna residents are more than likely driving further on a daily basis then residents of other districts which means that they will pay a higher percentage of the County’s total fuel tax revenue than residents of other districts.

C. As of now, fuel tax revenue can only be spent on County owned roads. The majority of Puna’s roads are considered private which means that fuel tax revenue cannot be used to improve or maintain the substandard subdivision roads of Puna.

D. Because the distribution of fuel taxes is based on the miles of county road in each district and most of Puna’s roads are private, there is a correlation that while we may drive much more than Hilo residents, we have less county roads, and are therefore receiving less benefit than residents in Hilo are. Based on the distribution formula we are likely paying a higher percentage than are receiving in benefit.

Councilwoman Jen Ruggles

100 Days of Broken Promises: Hawai‘i Democrats to Highlight Trump’s Disastrous Administration

Tomorrow (Saturday), April 29th will mark 100 days since Inauguration Day.  So far, Trump’s first 100 days have been filled with broken promises and policies that hurt Americans in every corner of our nation.

For example:

  • Trump promised he would drain the swamp, but instead he’s filled his administration with billionaires, Wall Street bankers, lobbyists and the same Washington insiders he railed against during the campaign.
  • Trump promised better health care that would cost less and provide more benefits, but instead he backed a bill that would have thrown 24 million off of their health care and driven up premiums for older Americans, all while giving tax breaks to the wealthy.
  • Trump promised he would deliver for the “forgotten man,” but his budget would cut funding for vital services like job training, Meals on Wheels, and disease research to finance yet another tax break for the rich.
  • Trump promised Mexico would pay for the wall, but instead he’s trying to get U.S. taxpayers to pay for it in the latest government funding bill.
  • Trump upset bipartisan negotiations to fund the government with a late-in-the-game attempt to get funding for his border wall and even threatened to hold health care for millions hostage to do so.
  • Trump promised he would get tough on outsourcing and trade, but he has failed to stand up to China and continues to hire foreign workers at his resorts like Mar-A-Lago.
  • Trump signed an executive order blocking citizens of six predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States, the most significant hardening of immigration policy in generations. In bringing a national halt to the executive order, Judge Derrick Watson (ruling on a challenge to the ban by Hawai‘i Attorney General Douglas Chin) wrote “The illogic of the government’s contention is palpable… The notion that one can demonstrate animus toward any group of people only by targeting all of them at once is fundamentally flawed.”
  • Trump’s Attorney General, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, insulted Hawai‘i residents by saying (in reference to Judge Watson’s ruling) “I really am amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the president of the United States from what appears to be clearly his statutory and constitutional power.” Senator Mazie Hirono responded: “Hawaii was built on the strength of diversity & immigrant experiences – including my own. Jeff Sessions’ comments are ignorant & dangerous” and Senator Brian Schatz tweeted: “Mr. Attorney General: You voted for that judge. And that island is called Oahu. It’s my home. Have some respect.”

Hawai‘i Democrats will be gathering across the state to continue to #resist by marching for climate change, rallying for our ‘āina, and talking about how Trump’s broken promises, disrespect, and disastrous policies are impacting their lives.

Join us Saturday at an event below as we mark 100 days of the Trump administration’s broken promises:

Commentary – Mayor’s Administration Has Taken Action Against Me

Mayor Harry Kim ran on a platform of transparency, and restoring trust in county government. Nonetheless,  his administration has taken action against me, which goes against those campaign promises.

The problems started on February 6th, 2017 when the Department of Public Works director Frank DeMarco sent me an official e-mail stating that I cannot communicate with anyone in the Department of Public Works going forward. Mr. DeMarco also states all further inquiries from me have to be sent to the mayor’s office through postal mail. This e-mail was disseminated to all DPW managerial staff, and to the mayor’s secretary.I was able to get  that  part rescinded, so I could go through DPW’s public information officer for any future inquiries. This somewhat addressed the issue at hand, but not completely. This directive made it impossible to provide feedback about future county highway projects.

In addition,  I still couldn’t communicate with front line engineers,  or division heads. I’ve established relationships with these individuals that  have lasted ten or more years in some cases. These individuals have always appreciated my efforts to report traffic signal and pothole issues, along with my assistance with getting various highway projects completed.

DPW Director DeMarco has painted a different picture of my efforts, which he stated in recent testimony to the Hawaii County Council Finance Committee on April 11th. He stated that I was making too many inquiries with DPW staff, which was causing issues for DPW and other county departments.

This statement doesn’t make any sense whatsoever based upon the positive feedback I’ve received from public works  staff over the years. This is why I believe  this directive is smokescreen for the real reason why I’ve been treated this way. Mayor Kim simply doesn’t welcome, or want, feedback from from community.

Aaron Stene
Kailua-Kona

Commentary – How Lawmakers Can Deal With “Annoying” Citizens

Dear Damon,

This was the year when we learned how “annoying” the public can be to government agencies, what with their constant demands for transparency, sunshine, and access to government records.

In fact, some state agencies were so annoyed that they sought help from the legislature, which responded with a bill to limit the rights of “vexatious records requesters.” That bill (HB1518) is still alive, but fortunately the latest version requires a decision from a court before stripping government watchdogs of their rights.

The funny thing is that if anyone is entitled to feel “vexed” by the state’s transparency laws (and process), it’s the public. According to Civil Beat, state and city officials have regularly tried to hide records or withhold them by charging ridiculously high fees to the person requesting them.

The Grassroot Institute frequently requests public documents, and our researchers could share a few stories about the tactics agencies use to delay or avoid a response. When we worked with Judicial Watch to gain a copy of the Native Hawaiian Roll — a public voter list — we even had to go to court to get the records released.

Ironically, there’s a shockingly simple solution that would make everyone happy: just be more transparent.

It’s perfect. Requesters would get the documents they want and state workers could be spared the stress of coming up with reasons to avoid handing them over. In fact, if agencies were more open in their operations, some of those requests wouldn’t even be necessary.

There’s even a proposal already in place at the legislature. HB165 (now headed to a Conference Committee) would modernize the existing Sunshine Law by requiring electronic posting of public agency meeting notices and minutes and making board packets available for public inspection.

It’s an important step forward for transparency in Hawaii and a common sense way to reduce the work associated with records requests. After all, there’s no need to make a request when something’s already online.

Of course, several state agencies oppose HB165 and have testified about why they would find it difficult to comply with the bill. It’s almost as if they prefer being “vexed.”

Still, we hope that the legislature will embrace greater openness in government and take advantage of the internet to make more records publicly available. They could even think of it as a public health service. Because all that stress and vexation can’t be good for our state workers.

E hana kakou (Let’s work together!),

Keli’i Akina, Ph.D. – President/CEO Grassroot Institute

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard Supports Tax Marchers, Calls on House Republicans to Bring Transparency Bill to a Floor Vote

In support of local and national participation in the “Tax March” movement, which has gained momentum around the country to demand transparency from President Trump, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02) issued the following statement today:

“Every president has a duty to put the interests of the American people first and foremost, and the American people deserve to know whether allegiance to special interests or undue foreign influence might be interfering with that duty.”

Addressing the Hawaiʻi residents who participated in the Tax March events on Oʻahu, Kauaʻi, and Hawaiʻi Island this weekend, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard said, “We need leadership in this country that is committed to setting aside personal interests and serving the interests of the American people.  I thank everyone who took the time to march today to demand the transparency required to ensure our government remains of, by, and for the people.”

Last week, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard signed a Discharge Petition that would force House Republicans to bring HR305 to the floor for a vote. This bill would require the president to disclose federal income tax returns for the three most recent taxable years and establishes civil and criminal penalties for failing to file or falsifying these income tax returns.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is also a cosponsor of Rep. Nadler’s resolution that would require Attorney General Jeff Sessions to turn over any records relating to investment by any foreign government in any entity owned in whole or in part by President Trump. Additionally, the resolution would require the Attorney General to produce documents related to Trump’s failure to create a blind trust for his business dealings and his proposal to instead maintain an interest in his business holdings while turning over the day-to-day operation of those interests to his sons.

A Message From Senator Kahele – Rat Lungworm Disease

Aloha,

For this week’s legislative update, I want to focus on Senate Bill 272, Senate Draft 2, House Draft 1 (SB272 SD2 HD1), Relating to Rat Lungworm Disease. With the recent flurry of news stories covering Rat Lungworm Disease in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Civil Beat and even the Atlantic, I feel it particularly important to update you on what the legislature is doing to address the situation.

SB272 SD2 HD1 appropriates an unspecified amount of funds to the University of Hawai`i at Hilo for programs, studies, and activities related to the prevention and eradication of rat lungworm disease. We know that we have to appropriately fund these efforts to put an end to this menace.

Currently, SB272 SD2 HD1 has passed third reading in the House. The Senate has already communicated its disagreement to the HD1 version because it changes the effective date to July 31, 2150. This strategy is known as “defecting the effective date” and either kills the bill or forces it into conference since it is a forgone conclusion that neither house will pass a bill with such an unrealistic implementation date.

Hopefully, this bill will go to conference. If it does, Representative Richard Creagan and I will likely be the lead-chairs for the conference committee and we’ll be able to work with our colleagues to put out a draft both houses can support.

As we move forward, stay up-to-date on this effort by following its progress on our capitol website or our weekly updates. Mahalo for all your support!

Me ka ha’aha’a,
Kaiali’i Kahele

Beekeepers – Honey Bee Colony Infected with American Foulbrood (AFB) in Volcano

To all beekeeping friends in Hawaii & all those interested in bees. I
just received notice from Big Island Beekeepers Assn. that American
Foulbrood has been identified in Volcano. Because of the serious implications of this disease & it`s longevityin an area, I ask that you share this info.
Carey Yost, Researcher
The following is the letter from Hawaii Dept Of Agriculture:

Dear Big Island Beekeeper,

We recently discovered a honey bee colony infected with American Foulbrood (AFB) in Volcano, Hawaii.

AFB is a bacterial disease that creates spores that can be viable for 50-80 years and is easily spread from colony to colony by robbing bees, tainted tools or equipment. It is characterized in the field by a very foul smell and a spotty brood pattern with sunken and perforated cappings. Typically the brood developing in the cells are brown and putrid. The classic field test for AFB is to insert a small stick into the infected brood cells and if the larvae inside can pull out in a rope 2 cm, it is typically AFB positive.

AFB is an extremely infectious and deadly disease that plagues honey bees. Historically, AFB wiped out much of Hawaii’s honeybee population in the 1930’s, and since the spores will always be present, the best strategy for prevention is early detection. The Hawaii Apiary Program has no regulatory authority in this situation though we do recommend best management practices established for AFB, which are to burn the infected colonies and equipment, then follow up with sterilizing hive tools and washing bee suits in bleach. Control and mitigation of this disease was the original reason that apiary inspection programs were created in the early 1900’s, nationwide.

Abandoned hives or exposed empty equipment in your area could also be a source of disease. When a colony is weakened by AFB, other bees will visit to rob and bring the disease home to their colonies. For this reason, we recommend that everyone take this time to learn what it looks like and to educate themselves about AFB and check for any problems in their hives ASAP.

The Apiary Program staff is available to answer questions – if you have suspicions of this disease, we are happy to look at pictures through e-mail, or inspect your hives hive-side free of charge. We can also help you submit disease samples for analysis if need be. The best way to reach us is by email at noelani.waters@hawaii.gov.

If you know of other beekeepers near you that would like to receive disease advisories like this one, please direct them to us so that they can join our statewide beekeeper registry. This free, voluntary, and confidential registry is the best way to stay connected, and inform you of disease concerns in your area, among other services.

We would like to thank you for your support of the Hawaii Apiary Program, and we hope to continue providing valuable support to you.

Mahalo nui loa, BEE well, Hawaii Apiary Program, Hawaii Department of Agriculture, 16 E. Lanikaula St. Hilo, HI 9672, www.hdoa.hawaii.gov/bees

 

Commentary – Good Citizen or “Vexatious Requester”?

Dear Damon,

When it comes to transparency in government, both the requesters and requestees would do well to remember Hanlon’s razor: Never attribute to malice what can be attributed to (what we’ll diplomatically call) misunderstanding, negligence, or incompetence. To do otherwise risks the kind of policy that threatens the foundations of transparent government … as the debate over HB1518 demonstrates.

When first introduced, HB1518 put forth a very worrisome proposal: state agencies could petition the Office of Information Practices to declare someone a “vexatious requester” based on the subjective determination that the requester was a nuisance who made excessive, repetitive records requests. Having been deemed an official irritant by the state, the vexatious person would have their rights to make records requests severely limited.

The problem, of course, is that what a state employee finds annoying, an ordinary citizen can view as “just doing their job.”

And the testimony on the bill made it clear that this ambiguity about what it means to be vexing was at the heart of the controversy over the bill.

While various state agencies attested that they had been subject to serious annoyance by repetitive and “harassing” requesters, defenders of transparency attempted to put the complaints in perspective.

Brian Black of the Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest showed that despite claims by UH and the Department of Agriculture that they had been “inundated” with requests that made it impossible for them to keep up with their workload (prompting the need for this law), both agencies were anything but overwhelmed. Black pointed out that of the approximately 18,000 requests fielded by all state agencies over the last three fiscal years, UH only had to deal with 42 non-routine (i.e. other than a transcript) requests and the Department of Agriculture had only 220 non-routine requests.

In other words, certain agencies seem to be vexed by any request at all.

Both Civil Beat and the Grassroot Institute pointed out that the law could be used to target the most common requesters–reporters, think tanks, researchers, and others working in the public interest. Not coincidentally, these are the people most likely to be critical of government. They’re also the ones most familiar with the ways in which agencies–whether through bureaucracy or inefficiency–can stall or obstruct a response, leading to the need for multiple requests. What an agency might call “vexatious,” an experienced researcher could simply call “trying to get the government to release the right information.”

There is good news, however, and a victory to announce. Many watchdog organizations urged the legislature to amend the bill to include due process for anyone in danger of losing their rights under the “vexatious requester” label. The committee listened, and the most current version of the bill requires the agency to plead its case for vexation to a circuit court. The burden is then on the agency to establish that the requester has abused the process established by the Uniform Information Practices Act before the court can limit the requester’s rights.

All of which means that government watchdogs can safely conduct their research of waste and corruption without worrying about being labeled “vexatious.” Though it’s no guarantee that the agencies involved won’t have plenty of other names for us.

E hana kakou (Let’s work together!),

Keli’i Akina, Ph.D.
President/CEO
Grassroot Institute