Bill seeks equal
spending for marketing,
By Lori Tighe
For every $1 spent on marketing Hawaii, environmentalists want $1 spent on protecting Hawaii.
A bill nicknamed "Dollar-for-Dollar" now going through the Legislature wants to create an environmental authority to fund conservation and maintenance.
"An alarmingly small amount is invested each year to protect our natural capital base," said Tim Johns, new director of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, "despite the value our natural resources have to our economy."
The connection between Hawaii's environment and economy is clear, Johns said. About 7 million tourists visit Hawaii annually to experience beautiful beaches, to fish and snorkel in clean waters and hike in snake-free rain forests.
Yet Hawaii's environment continues to degrade because of dwindling government money, said Maile Bay, Hawaii Audobon Society lobbyist.
"I'm frustrated with the lack of forward progress we've had in the state addressing natural resource protection. We're all fiddling while Rome burns," Bay said.
A prime example is the Department of Land and Natural Resources, which receives less than 1 percent of the state's budget to manage natural resources, Johns said. Although an ocean state, Hawaii ranks 48th in the country for fish and wildlife funding, even below desert states like Arizona and Nevada. The department's budget has dropped 27 percent overall since 1983.
State parks need $85 million just to bring them up to speed, said Ralston Nagata, parks supervisor. Areas of Sand Island State Park have been closed and hours of other parks have been reduced, said spokeswoman Aulani Wilhelm. State lifeguard services have been cut for many beaches.
Animals and plants are going extinct since the state spends little to save them, said Michael Buck, administrator of the state Division of Forestry and Wildlife. Hawaii has 297 endangered animals and plants, the most in the nation. Mounting alien species, like miconia, grow faster than the department's limited resources can curb them.
New hiking trails are not being developed, Buck said.
Hawaii lacks information on its fisheries and coral reefs to adequately protect them, said Bill Devick, head of Aquatic Resources. Not knowing how many fish or what kinds of fish are taken annually by 260,000 recreational fishers limits the state's response.
The Main Street Program to preserve the historic feel and spur the economy of small towns was cut a few years ago. The 12 towns in
volved have dwindled to six and exist through volunteers, Wilhelm said. The Historic Preserves Program was cut too, limiting the public's access to ancient and historic sites.
Small boat harbors deteriorate faster than they can be fixed. About 17 major repair and construction projects need $4.3 million in funding. Meanwhile collapsing piers cannot generate new revenue.
Despite these pressing problems, the life of the "Dollar-for-Dollar" bill appears short this year. The House version fizzled because of time constraints yesterday, but the Senate version remains alive -- with no money attached to it.
"It's a real critical piece of legislation that needs to be developed with a lot of different partners," said Rep. Hermina Morita. "The question is why have another department when the crucial issue is funding."
Lawsuits worthBy Craig Gima
$4 million may be
paid out by state
The Legislature is being asked to approve payments of more than $4 million to settle lawsuits and other claims against the state.
Most of the settlements involve traffic accidents on state highways.
The largest claim is for $2 million to a Pennsylvania woman who lost her leg and suffered a brain injury in a 1995 Maui traffic accident on the Haleakala Highway in the Makawao Avenue intersection.
Residents had been asking the state for a traffic signal, and there had been 43 accidents recorded in the intersection before the accident.
The woman, Tracey Ging Trendler, was a practicing attorney before the accident and was unable to resume her law practice because of her injuries.
The state is also being asked to pay about $300,000 to settle claims by prisoners who were injured while in custody. A Halawa inmate who suffered serious injuries when a crank-up ladder collapsed on his leg reached a settlement for $125,000.
The state would also pay $25,000 to a man beaten by deputy sheriffs while confined in the District Court cellblock in 1995. Three deputy sheriffs were later fired and charged with third-degree assault for the incident.
A settlement of $222,000 would go the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. for attorneys fees, costs and interest after the state lost a decade-long case in federal court involving submerged lands that are now part of the Hilton Waikoloa Hotel. The Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. filed suit alleging the state breached its trust duty by abandoning the public ceded lands to a private landowner.
Other cases include:
A $115,861 settlement to a passenger in a pickup truck who suffered brain damage and other serious injuries when a 100-pound boulder fell onto the truck near the Makapuu Lookout on April 24, 1995. The state now has a project to scale the mountainside to protect the public from potential rock falls.
A $200,000 settlement to the passenger in a truck who suffered critical head injuries when a tree fell onto the truck on the Likelike Highway on Sept. 22, 1995.
A $24,000 settlement to a Halawa inmate who suffered a seizure and fell from his bunk.
A $15,000 settlement for the state's estimated court costs to a Palolo Elementary School student and her mother who sued the state after the boy fell from a rocket ship jungle gym at the school's playground and broke his arm during recess.
A $84,320 settlement to a former intermediate school teacher who claimed he was discriminated against and not accommodated in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
There are 49 claims in the bill. Many of the smaller claims involve outdated checks that had not been cashed for years. Senators on the Judiciary Committee yesterday asked why the state should pay these claims if the state is no longer responsible for the checks.
The senators also asked whether the state Transportation Department should pay some of the claims involving state highways from the department's special fund rather than having the money come out of the general fund.
House plan to replaceBy Mike Yuen
excise, income tax
The House's proposal to drastically revamp the state's tax system, long criticized for stifling small businesses, has generated a chilly reaction from Senate President Norman Mizuguchi.
"You just can't give false expectations," Mizuguchi (D, Aiea) said yesterday.
"If they want education and they want to continue the kind of services that are required of state government, then I think we have to be very cautious in terms of the kinds of expectations that we place on the table."
Lawmakers must "pencil in" financial and legal obligations required of the Legislature, such as funding retroactive pay raises for government workers, he added.
"Then I'd like to look at some tax relief for small business," he said. "That's where the Senate would like to head -- not major, major tax reforms or reductions -- because we just can't afford it."
Mizuguchi's remarks came shortly after the House Economic Development Committee approved moving six bills, all part of a tax reform package, to the House Finance panel.
The measure with the most long-term significance, said House Majority Leader Ed Case (D, Manoa), would phase out the state's 4 percent general excise tax and the personal income tax over five years, and replace it with a sales tax so that consumption -- not income -- is taxed.
The bill also would restructure state government by identifying departments that can be self-supporting and would therefore receive little or no support from the cash-strapped general fund.
The measure that would have the greatest immediate impact would alleviate the "pyramiding" effect of the excise tax on intermediary services at the wholesale level over a four-year period, Case said. In a four-step reduction, it drops the excise tax down to 0.5 percent.
"From the beginning," said House Economic Development Chairman Robert Herkes (D, Volcano), "the House majority members have been focused on the need for action to revitalize our economy."
His panel "firmly believes that this package of bills will provide the stimuli to attract desirable investment and enhance our business environment," Herkes said.
Tobacco settlementBy Helen Altonn
still needs work
Hawaii's share of a national tobacco settlement will be jeopardized if the state Legislature doesn't "level the playing field" between manufacturers who agree to the settlement and those who don't.
That message was delivered to the House Health Committee yesterday in testimony presented for Attorney General Margery Bronster.
Hawaii tentatively is due to collect more than $1 billion over 25 years from tobacco companies, the attorney general said in a statement.
Part or all of that money could be lost if Hawaii doesn't meet a requirement of the settlement to "neutralize" any advantage to tobacco manufacturers who don't participate, Bronster said.
The settlement recognizes that manufacturers who aren't part of the settlement may be able to sell their products at much lower prices, she said.
States, consequently, are required to adopt a mechanism to offset that impact, she said.
The Health Committee passed a bill to the House Finance Committee requiring tobacco companies that don't enter the agreement to establish a reserve fund.
The fund would guarantee a source of compensation and prevent those companies from deriving large, short-term profits, the attorney general said. She said the fund essentially transfers the state's financial burden for treating tobacco-related diseases back to the tobacco manufacturers.
Any state that doesn't provide and enforce such legislation will suffer substantial penalties -- possibly losing its entire allocation, Bronster said.
States that pass legislation not only will receive their share of the settlement, but also part of the money allocated to states that don't enact legislation. If the court rules such legislation unenforceable, Hawaii's allocation still could be reduced, but it would receive at least 35 percent, she said.
Lawmakers debate billBy Pat Omandam
protecting workers after
business is sold
Some state lawmakers want to make sure they terminate a House bill that protects Hawaii workers from being laid off or fired after a business is sold.
The bill is not expected to make it to its final House committee before today's deadline.
"I think it's just contrary to the state's intent, to try to encourage economic development and investment, to prohibit buyers to buy their assets and take on all of the liabilities of the former employees," said Rep. Iris Ikeda Catalani (D, Ahuimanu), one of a dozen House Democrats who raised strong reservations about House Bill 944, HD1.
Added Minority Floor Leader David Pendleton (R, Kailua): "I think the message that is sent from this measure -- whether it is intentional or unintentional -- is that Hawaii is a difficult place to do business. The Legislature will not leave these kinds of decisions to the private sector."
The amended bill, introduced by state Rep. Roy Takumi (D, Pearl City), requires successive owners of Hawaii businesses with more than 50 people to retain all current employees for at least one year after buying the business. The House Labor Committee last Friday approved the measure, one of three committees it must go through before it reaches the House floor for a final vote.
In defense of the measure, Labor Chairwoman Terry Nui Yoshinaga (D, Moiliili) told colleagues yesterday that the bill is about sustaining the quality of life for Hawaii's workers. It is an incentive to attract the kinds of investors and owners who are committed to creating local jobs, she said.
Yoshinaga added it is a small price to pay to ask investors to make responsible decisions when it comes to Hawaii workers and the community.
"Unlike the mainland, we can't just drive across state lines to find other employment," she said.
The House forwarded the bill to the Economic Development Committee, which must hear and pass it out today if it is to survive the deadline.
During floor debate, the bill drew "no" votes from Democrats David D. Stegmaier (Hawaii Kai) and Tom Okamura (Aiea), along with reservations from the dozen other majority members.
The two House Republicans on Yoshinaga's committee also criticized the measure. Rep. Jim Rath (R, Kailua-Kona) called it one of the most anti-business bills he has seen. Rath says the measure puts Hawaii a minor step away from nationalizing its industries, such as those found in socialist Third-World countries.
"We're already known as the 'People's Republic of Hawaii' in national magazines," he said. "And now we're sending the message we don't want your investments, we don't want your money, stay out and stay away."