At The Legislature
Big Isle prison plan
gains more support
Hospital system seeks $27.5 millionFrom staff and wire reports
Tax hikes a distinct possibility
The co-chairman of the powerful Senate Ways and Means Committee says he would not block a privately built, privately run prison on the Big Island if the community wants it there.
But Sen. Andy Levin (D, Kau-South Kona) believes the prison should be built on Oahu because most of the inmates come from there. "I still have personal doubts about the desirability, but I will not block it (from the Big Island)," Levin said.
Last year, Levin blocked the Cayetano administration's request for a $150 million bond authorization to build a 2,300-bed medium-security prison near the minimum-security Kulani Correctional Center on the slopes of Mauna Loa.
Meanwhile, Rep. Nestor Garcia (D, Waipahu-Crestview), chairman of the House Public Safety Committee, said yesterday he has changed his opinion and now backs a private prison somewhere in Hawaii.
"Previously, I've been leery of a privately operated prison, but now the choice has come between having a private facility on the mainland or in Hawaii," Garcia said.
These shifts of opinions came the day after Gov. Ben Cayetano said he is pursuing having the Creek Indian Nation build a prison for Hawaii inmates on tribal lands in Oklahoma.
The governor said that building a prison in Hawaii would put the state at its borrowing limit and force the delay of new schools and other state construction projects.
A prison near Hilo could win public acceptance if it strongly emphasizes rehabilitation, a group of Big Islanders told state officials.
The concept was presented to Garcia's Committee on Public Safety and to Cayetano.
Leading the effort is supermarket owner Barry Taniguchi, who heads the Hawaii Island Alliance for the Future. Also making a presentation to Garcia's committee were drug rehabilitation officials of the Columbia River Correctional Institute in Oregon.
The rehabilitation concept is being offered in response to a still-pending, controversial state proposal to build a 2,300-bed prison on Stainback Highway south of Hilo. Cayetano also has proposed building a prison on Indian lands on the mainland.
Social worker Carol Ignacio, a member of Taniguchi's group, told the Star-Bulletin, "I have a strong personal conviction that we have no business sending our people to the mainland." Ignacio is the state director of the Catholic Church's Office for Social Ministry.
Hospital system asksBy Helen Altonn
for $27.5 million
The Hawaii Health Systems Corp. is asking the state Legislature for $27.5 million in emergency and supplemental funds and more power to manage the system's 12 hospitals to meet community needs.
The hospital system also is seeking to participate in collective bargaining and to streamline personnel processes "without the restrictions of the archaic civil service system."
The National Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems in Washington, D.C., supports the changes in a report to the Legislature.
"HHSC clearly is on its way to becoming a highly successful, even visionary, health system," said association President Larry Gage. The corporation "now needs the full support of the Legislature and the people of Hawaii to realize its potential."
The corporation is requesting $14.5 million for partial repayment of a $23 million state loan last year to cover collective-bargaining increases for 3,000 employees. The money was deleted from the Legislature's collective-bargaining bill.
The corporation is trying to accelerate cash collections to repay the rest of the loan, said Kelley Roberson, vice president and chief financial officer.
The hospital system also is asking for about $13 million in supplemental funds to cover operational shortfalls and collective-bargaining increases totaling about $7 million in the next fiscal year.
The subsidy is needed because "we'll be just about out of money at the end of the year if we reach our cash collection goals and pay DAGS (the Department of Accounting and General Services) back," Roberson said.
The long-troubled system is doing better every year, "but we're not at break-even yet," he said. "That was a $20 million hit in one year in collective bargaining."
The corporation doesn't anticipate operating in the black in the near future, "knowing the volatile, uncertain climate of health care as a whole," said spokesman Miles Takaaze. But it hopes to minimize state subsidies in the next four years, he said.
Among new developments, rural hospitals meeting criteria as "critical access hospitals" may qualify for expanded cost-based federal reimbursements for patient services, Takaaze said.
He said the corporation is working with the state Health and Human Services departments to implement the program, authorized under the Balanced Budget Act.
"At this point, it looks very lucrative for four out of the seven (rural facilities), possibly five," Takaaze said.
He said Kauai Veterans Memorial Hospital is expected to be the first designated as a critical access hospital. Next would be Kau and Kohala Hospitals on the Big Island and Lanai Community Hospital, he said.
The fifth possibly would be the former Honokaa Hospital, now Hale Ho'ola Hamakua, he said.
Other facilities are the Hilo Medical Center, Kona Community Hospital, Maui Memorial Medical Center, Kula Hospital on Maui, Maluhia and Leahi hospitals on Oahu, and the Samuel Mahelona Memorial Hospital on Kauai.
Roberson said the hospital system collected $203.6 million in cash in the last fiscal year and has set a $230 million target for this fiscal year, ending in June.
Collections are running a little behind, but "it's still our intent to reach a $230 million collection level this year. And normally in health care, that is a pretty aggressive goal," he said.
Excluding retroactive collective-bargaining payments of $13.3 million and Y2K expenses of about $1.2 million, the system's operating loss in the last fiscal year was $11.4 million, Roberson said, noting that's much less than previous years.
The national association said the system has made significant progress since it was established in July 1996 as a public benefit corporation, but changes are needed to overcome obstacles to become a viable operation.
The hospital system should be authorized to create its own personnel system and conduct its own collective bargaining, the national organization said.
Tax hikes a distinct possibilityBy Pat Omandam
Stay the course. Be fiscally prudent. Live within our means.
Those were the cautious words of the 39 House Democrats who say they can make the bold changes this session to reform civil service and speed up the economy.
But the one phrase you won't hear from them: "No new taxes."
"I can't really say that," House Speaker Calvin Say (D, Palolo) said after the majority released its package of bills yesterday.
"I don't know what the Senate may do. At this point, I would share that we would be open to some of the proposals that may increase taxes for particular services, if the members of this House would agree upon," Say said.
One majority-backed measure would make the public employee health fund more flexible and fiscally prudent, especially since the state and counties face a large increase in the health fund cost in 15 years.
State Rep. Nathan Suzuki said the state and the health fund board must look toward the long term and how much it would cost to pay for health benefits for state workers and retirees. Suzuki said the idea makes the fund more efficient, but it also adjusts benefits awarded.
"There's no way our current projections of revenues will be able to keep up with the benefits that have been committed or so-called committed to the employees and retirees," Suzuki said.
To stimulate the economy and save money, the majority wants to approve the tax credit for hotel/resort construction that was stalled last year. Other plans call for denying workers' compensation stress claims based on disciplinary/personnel actions and using money from the state retirement fund for local investment capital.
Along with the periodic re-registration of firearms and alternatives to incarceration, the majority members want a pilot project to test the public financing of election campaigns.
State Rep. Brian Schatz (D, Makiki) said the plan focuses on the 2002 City Council elections because all nine seats will be up for election and no incumbents are running.
Schatz said Council candidates can voluntarily agree to public financing and receive a set amount of money for their campaign. But by doing so, they vow not to accept any campaign contributions over a set amount and would be declared ineligible for the seat if they did.
Consider the alternatives:Energy resources such as wind, solar, biomass, geothermal and hydrogen fuel cells could provide Hawaii with alternatives to fossil fuels in Hawaii, an expert in renewable energy told several House and Senate committees at a joint informational briefing yesterday.
Dr. Donald Aitken, senior research scientist for renewable energy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, explained how the state can develop these additional resources of electricity and drive down the cost of renewable energy to consumers.
The key for the state is using what is called "renewables portfolio standards" -- a flexible, market-driven policy that requires qualified electric utility companies to have a minimum percentage of renewable energy resources in their overall resource portfolio.
Aitken, however, said there are downsides to using any form of renewable energy. "There's no way of making energy that doesn't have an environmental impact," he said.
Interesting bill:It would be a conflict of interest for state lawmakers to work as lobbyists or as representatives of special interests, under a bill introduced by state Rep. Jim Rath (R, Kailua-Kona).
Under House Bill 1796, no legislator shall assist any person or business, or represent any company, trade association, political action or lobbying committee, or union government affairs organization on any issue directly affecting the entity during the lawmaker's term. Lawmakers would be required to disclose the nature and extent of the interest or transaction that may be affected by the legislative action.
Pat Omandam, Star-Bulletin
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