Governor’s Cheerful Tax Hike Proposal

Gov. Neil Abercrombie met with reporters yesterday after returning from Asia and he spoke about a number of issues.

That included a recent national poll that rated him the most unpopular governor in the nation, his decision to drop a plan to tax retirees’ pensions, and a new scheme to put the middle class in affordable housing.

Next legislative session, Abercrombie said that he will continue his push to tax sweetened drinks such as soda.

He said once people see the link between sweeteners and calories, like those in ice cream and sodas, that they will understand the need to tax these products with the money used to help fund education and health programs.

Hawaii soda drinkers already pay a number of taxes on each beverage they purchase including a General Excise Tax and a bottle tax.

Last session Abercrombie proposed adding a new tax of 10 cents on every sugary drink.

An organized lobby of small businesses and beverage distributors defeated the governor’s plan, but he promises to be back in 2012 with a public campaign to win approval.

Employee Union Trust Fund Loses $1.4 Million a Month

The Employee Union Trust Fund board of directors awarded a six-month extension of the informedRx contract from January 1, 2012 to June 30, 2012, to Longs (CVS pharmacy). But that did not sit well with the current pharmacy benefit manager (PBM), which filed a protest of the award.

The EUTF board told union members on Monday that the protest “puts a stay on the award to CVS/Caremark” and that “the EUTF staff cannot move forward with the transition to CVS/Caremark until the protest is denied or resolved.” In the mean time, the fund is losing $1.4 million a month, a notice to members said.

Hearings on the protest ran from September 21 to September 28, 2011, and attorneys on both sides are working on proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law without a deadline as to when a decision must be rendered.

The EUTF told members in an email:

“If the protest is denied, EUTF plans to move forward with the transition to CVS. Even if the protest is denied within a month, the EUTF will not be able to transition the participants to CVS/Caremark by January 1, 2012. As a result, a six-month extension of the informedRx contract was approved by the EUTF board at their meeting on October 18, 2011. The extension also provides the EUTF with the right to terminate the contract with a 60-day notice without cause.”

“The EUTF’s consultant estimates that the EUTF will be losing approximately $1.4 million per month under this extension, which represents the difference between the CVS/Caremark and informedRx pricing on projected prescription drug utilization. The board also decided at their meeting to: 1) maintain the prescription drug premium rates as posted on the EUTF website that utilizes the CVS/Caremark pricing and 2) fund any resultant loses with reserves.”

Sentencing Delayed For Convicted Con Artist

A convicted swindler has won a delay in his federal court sentencing date after another of his defense lawyers withdrew from the case.

Ronald K. Maria, 39, admitted stealing $682,000 from an elderly Mainland man earlier this year.

After the guilty plea was entered, Maria’s first court-appointed defense lawyer asked to withdraw from the case because of unspecified differences with his client.

That request was granted and Federal Deputy Public Defender Donna Gray was appointed as Maria’s new counsel.

In court Friday, Gray asked to be removed from the case. After explaining her reasons in a closed-door session with U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Kurren, Gray was allowed to withdraw.

A new defense lawyer has not been appointed yet. A new sentencing date has not been scheduled.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Amy Olson said Maria’s victim is “an elderly man who has been devastated” by Maria’s crime.

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