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How to build a progressive consumption tax

Apropos to the State Legislature’s reticence to extend the GET surcharge, a proposal to build a progressive VAT.

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Ikaika M Hussey
Ethics commission gives award to legislature - for doing what they are legally obligated to do

From the commission’s website:

The Commission wishes to congratulate all Representatives and all Senators for having completed their 2017 Disclosures of Financial Interests by the January 31 filing deadline, and has therefore issued Ethics Awards to both houses of the Legislature in recognition of their 100 percent success rate in completing the filing requirement on time. Speaker Joseph Souki and President Ronald Kouchi were presented with certificates signed by all five Ethics Commissioners.

 

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Will Caron
Is Souki’s leadership in trouble?

Within today's announced House committee chair shuffle lies the very real potential for an impending leadership shakeup.

The Hawaii State House leadership announced today that Rep. Angus McKelvey would be removed as chair from the Committee on Consumer (CPC) Protection and reinstated as chair of the House Committee on Higher Education (HED). Former Committee on Education (EDN) chair Roy Takumi will take over as chair of the CPC instead. Justin Woodson will take over as chair of the Committee on Education (EDN). While Speaker of the House Joe Souki is sticking to the line that this rare, mid-session shuffle was “mutually agreeable,” the reorganization could mean a lot more than leadership is letting on.

Amid the growing criticism over McKelvey’s handling of the CPC committee (passing bills without consultation, as well as adding last minute amendments to sabotage bills, as was the case with HB790, the pesticide disclosure bill) the resolution to reassign him was introduced. But during the lead up to the day’s session, Speaker Souki spoke strongly against any motion to remove McKelvey, effectively attempting to strong arm House members who were upset with the CPC committee chairship into falling in line. This inflamed fracture lines within the majority caucus that could threaten the fragile coalition that resulted in Souki’s election as leader of the House over former Speaker Calvin Say in the first place.

Some form of meeting seems to have occurred with certain members of the majority caucus regarding Speaker Souki as well. And while the Speaker was unavailable for comment to confirm at the time of publication, rumors fly around the rotunda, and it seems that there was the possibility of an immediate attempt to remove him from his position as well.

The resolution to reassign McKelvey ultimately went forward to the floor for a vote, for which Speaker Souki was absent. The vote passed and the reassignments went forward. No resolution regarding Souki was introduced.

Interestingly, the Maui Mayoral election is up in 2018, and scuttlebutt has it that current Lieutenant Governor (LG) Shan Tsutsui might make a run for the office. That would mean that the President of the Senate, Ronald Kouchi, would be up to inherit the position, but it’s not clear he would take the job. Which would then leave the road open for Souki to step into the LG role. And that’s when the real fight for House leadership could begin.

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Will Caron
Former Sacramento mayor reenters politics in Hawaii after dual scandals

Allegations of sexual assault and shady handling of public education follow former mayor Kevin Johnson and his wife, former D.C. school system chancellor Michelle Rhee as they try to remake themselves in Hawai'i politics.

On January 18, 2017, the Hawai‘i State Legislature convened the 29th Biennium Legislative Session. Senate President Kouchi introduced Kevin Johnson, the former Mayor of Sacramento and a former professional basketball player, and announced that “he has been meeting with Johnson and hopes to work with him to address many of the concerns in Hawai‘i that mirror those of the Mayor’s hometown” (as per Damon Tucker).

In addition to this appearance on opening day, Johnson has been making the rounds with legislators, and was most recently spotted last week at the Hawaii Business 20 for the next 20 event.

Johnson is an alleged serial perpetrator of sexual assault, something that has been covered extensively in media, including on HBO’s “Real Sports” news program. Among other allegations, Johnson was said to have used his standing in the community to keep his teenaged victims, many of whom he mentored, from coming forward.

See also: slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2015/10/12/kevin_johnson_sexual_assault_allegations_sacramento_mayor_faces_questions.html

In his speech, it was clear that Senator Kouchi had invited Johnson because of his work with charter schools, but it seems he must not know the full details of either Johnsons’ involvement with charter schools, or that of Johnson’s wife, Michelle Rhee. As a former chancellor of the Washington, D.C. school system, Rhee has also been the subject of controversy after closing a number of Washington D.C. schools without public hearing, and making unsubstantiated claims that she had improved test scores from the 13th percentile to the 90th. Her eventual approval rating dropped to 43 percent, prior to her resignation. More recently, Rhee has advocated for school vouchers, allowing public funds to be used for private school tuition, at events funded by recently appointed Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

While Kouchi’s close association with Johnson as an alleged sex assault perpetrator should, at the very least, raise eyebrows and give legislators pause before working with him, Kouchi’s stated intention to seek guidance from advocates of controversial educational policies may carry serious repercussions that could affect public school children, teachers and taxpayers far into the future.

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Alt Rail plan could be completed with existing funds

"Salvage the Rail" group releases alternative Honolulu route map for a street level plan that would save taxpayers from a GET surcharge extension

Salvage the Rail today released a route map showing street level rail through downtown Honolulu. The map also shows extension routes to Waikiki and the University of Hawaii.

“Some of the things HART and others are asserting about street level rail in Honolulu are wildly inaccurate,” said Scott Wilson. Wilson was Chair of the AIA Transit Task Force from 2009–12 and Chair of the AIA Regional & Urban Design Committee from 2011–16. “We want the public to know that running street level rail from Middle Street through downtown can be done with the $6.8 billion in existing funding. There is no need for a General Excise Tax (GET) surcharge extension to complete rail. Rail can be completed 4 years faster, with far less construction impacts, and lower operating and maintenance costs in the future. This is not wishful thinking. It is based on current data from the 38 other cities in the U.S. using light rail.”

The proposed route would pick up from elevated rail at Middle Street, run along King Street, looping around at Alapai street and returning on Beretania Street. The Downtown route could be completed with the $6.8 billion (already collected and GET surcharge revenue projected through 2027).

Optional extension routes to Waikiki and the University of Hawaii could be made at a cost of $139 million per mile and would surmount the technical impossibility of extending the planned elevated route from Ala Moana Center due to the 90-foot overpass required over the old Nordstrom building.

The group lists several “myths” about Rail currently being circulated with its explanations of why these statements are false:

Myth: Street level rail would require the digging of a 4–8 foot trench 30 feet wide and have huge construction impacts downtown.

Truth: To lay a set of tracks construction would be 14 inches deep by 8 feet wide, which is the same depth as normal road construction. This would not require purchase of any additional land. Existing streets could be used. Because these streets have already been excavated, the issue of new archeological finds is not applicable. Street level rail stations are not bigger than a bus stop, requiring only a canopy for rain shelter and small ticket machine on an existing sidewalk.

In contrast, building elevated rail through downtown Honolulu would create enormous construction impacts since entire roadways will need to be cut open to pour underground spread foundations to support the weight of the elevated guideway. Constructing the football-field sized stations planned for elevated rail would create immense disruption to nearby structures, traffic and businesses downtown.

Myth: Changing the plan now would result in a loss of federal funding, and slow or halt the rail project.

Truth: The Federal Transit Authority (FTA) has already listed street level rail as an acceptable option to complete the route to downtown. The Recovery Plan sent to Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transit (HART) officials by the FTA in June 2016 lists six options for completion in order to receive $1.55 billion in federal funding. The FTA does not dictate what rail technology is used. Option 2A in the Recovery Plan reads, “Build to Middle Street as planned and continue with at-grade rail system.” In September 2016, the FTA clarified that the route could extend to downtown (Aloha Tower) at a minimum in order to qualify for federal funding.

With any major change in route, a supplement to the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is needed. However, this does not take the same amount of time as a full EIS. For example, in March 2010, the city changed the route of the rail at the airport because it was too close to the runways. The EIS was modified in a matter of 3 months and the revised EIS was submitted in June.

Even taking the time to make technical adjustments and put new plans in place, the project could be completed 4 years faster because of the speed with which street level rail tracks can be laid.

Myth: Street level rail will be slowed to the speed of automobile traffic.

Truth: The Middle Street-to-Downtown segment would be slower by 2-3 minutes (depending on length of final route). Signal synchronization can be used so that the street level trains can maintain 30-mile-per-hour speed through downtown, nearly the same speed as elevated rail. Managed lanes (for trains and busses only) keep trains running independent of automobile traffic speeds, and also greatly increase safety.

Myth: A street level system through downtown will result in loss of ridership capacity.

Truth: Making a technical change to car design to have 3 instead of 4 cars per train can be made up for by increasing frequency at peak times to every 5 instead of 6 minutes.

A route through downtown Honolulu would deliver riders to their places of work. Instead of just a commuter rail, it would be a true urban transit system, attracting additional riders who want to travel through the city center’s intense employment areas. Very few commuters from West Oahu have an end destination of the few stops planned along Nimitz Highway or Ala Moana Center.


“The mayor’s financial plan is for taxpayers to write him a blank check. In return, absolutely no public financial reporting has been released by HART, and cost estimates keep going up,” write the authors of the alternate plan. “Using the proposed street level route, the city already has enough funds to complete the project using existing GET surcharge money through 2027, without imposing more taxes. This would save 4 years of construction time and $3-4 billion dollars. It’s time to salvage the rail.”

High resolution route map and other downloadable images are available at www.SalvageTheRail.org/media.html

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Aloha to Dana Rae Park, Hawaiʻi’s Musical Warrior of Peace

Services for Dana Rae Park will be held this Saturday, March 4, 2017, 1:30-4 pm at the Atherton YMCA (formerly YWCA) Auditorium, 1820 University Avenue, Honolulu Hawaiʻi, 96822. Call (808) 256-6637 for more information.

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Laulani Teale
Jailed state

Three practical reasons to reduce Hawaiʻi's incarcerated population through investment in community-based restorative justice programs rather than through construction of a new, $1.3 billion prison.

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Will Caron
With all due respect

Mayor Arakawa’s recent, disparaging remarks regarding the rocks of ʻĪao Valley is part of a larger pattern of belittlement toward non-Western, indigenous culture that can be felt around the globe.

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Tamara Paltin
End of Life Forum: options for the terminally ill

As Hawaii’s population ages, what ought to be done at the end of life is becoming a matter of great concern to the state. To explore the options available to those with a terminal illness, the University of Hawaii’s Public Policy Center and the Matsunaga Institute for Peace are sponsoring a moderated panel discussion on Thursday, February 23 on the topic, “End of Life: Public Policy for the Terminally Ill.” The forum, which begins at 7 p.m. at the Hawaii State Capitol Auditorium, includes Attorney General Douglas Chin, Dr. Charles Miller and John Radcliffe of Compassion and Choices Hawaii, and Dr. Craig Nakatsuka and Joy Yadao of Hawaii’s Partnership for Appropriate and Compassionate Care. The panel will be moderated by Judge Michael Broderick (Ret.), the President and CEO of the YMCA of Honolulu. 

Advances in medicine mean that more local residents are caring for relatives in their final days and are facing difficult decisions about their illnesses and death. Furthermore, 100 million Americans have a chronic disease, and a growing number of these chronically-ill people are asking for the right to take their own lives. The intent of the forum is to identify the various positions, and in the process consider the consequences of alternative public policies for the terminally ill in an environment of tolerance and respect.

Judge Broderick is the former director of the Judiciary’s Center for Alternative Resolution, the former Administrative Director of the State Courts, and a former Family Court Judge where he presided over more than 10,000 cases involving every type of family dispute. Over the course of his career, Judge Broderick has moderated or facilitated public and/or televised forums on many controversial issues, including commercial leasehold, siting of public facilities, the State Hospital, homelessness, race, discrimination and identity politics in Hawaii, and the Akaka bill. He currently is the President and CEO of the YMCA of Honolulu.

Douglas Chin graduated from Stanford University and received his law degree from the University of Hawaii. Chin joined the Honolulu prosecutor’s office in 1996, where he tried approximately fifty jury cases to verdict. From 2010 to 2013, under Honolulu mayor Peter B. Carlisle, Chin served as managing director for the city and county of Honolulu. From 2013 to 2015, Chin was a law partner and eventual managing partner at Carlsmith Ball, one of the oldest and largest law firms in the state of Hawaii. Hawaii Governor David Ige appointed Chin to become the state’s Attorney General in January 2015. He was unanimously confirmed by the state senate on March 15, 2015.

Dr. Charles Miller is a retired oncologist, board certified in internal medicine, medical oncology, and hematology. He is one of the founding members of the Physician Advisory Council for Aid in Dying (PACAID) for Compassion & Choices. He served for 30 years in the U.S. Army Medical Department, was chief consultant to the Surgeon General and spent nine years as chief of hematology at Kaiser Medical Center in Honolulu. He is a member of the Hawaii Society of Clinical Oncology and serves as the State Affiliate Representative to the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

Dr. Craig Nakatsuka is an internist who recently retired after 34 years of service from Kaiser Medical Group. He has spent the past decade in the work of long-term care and palliative care. Most recently, he spent time mentoring health care teams in providing patient-centered care, one of his greatest joys. He is a spokesperson for Hawaii’s Partnership for Appropriate Compassion and Care.

John Radcliffe, stage 4 terminal cancer patient and advocate for medical aid in dying in Hawaii, is Co-founder & President Emeritus of Capitol Consultants of Hawaii. He is a veteran union leader, educator, writer, speaker, lecturer, and governmental and political action specialist. During the past three decades he has been involved in more political campaigns in Hawaii than virtually any other person. He’s been an active lobbyist at the state and national level for forty years.

Joy Yadao is a registered nurse with over 25 years of experience in nursing leadership and in the specialties of pediatrics, oncology, case management, end-of-life care, advanced care planning and healthcare quality. Joy is the former Executive Director of the St. Francis Hospice and Palliative Care Program and was the former Hawaii Clinical Improvement Coach for the CMS Partnership for Patients program. Joy is currently managing an Advance Care Planning initiative recently funded by Medicare and is a founding board member of Kokua Mau, Hawaii’s Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.

The panel discussion is free and open to the public.

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