BY SAM SLOM – Both the Hawaii House and Senate majority advanced several increased tax bills during the first major legislative crossover Tuesday. While the Democrats stood uniformly firm in supporting nearly all tax measures, some Republicans in the House supported tax hikes.

There was a great emphasis on marijuana at yesterday’s session. While some over the counter medicines are being put further out of reach, your legislature wants to relax rules on possession of marijuana, and of course to tax future sales and medical use.

A bill ( HB 546) moving in the legislature would give transgenders here more legal rights and a new cause of action to bring against businesses who do not hire them even if the refusal has nothing to do with their sexuality. Bad bill, bad law.

Unions dominated the week’s business news. Last Friday, in the aftermath of a terrible wind and rain storm that left 8,000 households and many small businesses without electricity on O’ahu, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union (IBEW) struck Hawaiian Electric, and the paying customers of the utility. There was no doubt that the strike coincided with the helplessness of the customers of Hawaii’s largest utility monopoly. A deal between HECO and IBEW was struck on Monday but is subject to union member ratification. During the most recent agreement, the members rejected the pact. If this agreement takes, all workers are due back on Friday. This does not solve future problems. Customers are unwilling hostages to the union. A compulsory union and a monopoly energy provider need change. The first step should be deregulation of electric delivery. Little chance of that happening in Hawaii, though it has been successful in other states.

Monday also saw a potential settlement between Hilton Hawaiian Village Resort and the Local 5 UNITE HERE hotel workers union. This union has been picketing local hotel chains for many months and even took their protests inside the hotel property. Hawaii has the second highest union per capita membership in the U.S. (behind New York).

Are you ono for local fish? Better be prepared to pay morfe starting soon. The harvesting of local tasty bottomfish, such as onga, will be severely curtailed until August, thus driving costs higher.

A reminder that Junior Achievement of Hawaii will honor and induct four new laureates into the Hawaii Business Hall of Fame this Friday evening at the Hale Koa Hotel. This year’s awardees include:  Richard Henderson (Island of Hawaii, Realty Investment), John Morgan, Kualoa Ranch, Robert Taylor, Maui Divers and Shelly Wilson of Wilson Homecare.

The New York Times and Gallup, selected statistically, the “happiest man in America.” The winner?  Alvin Wong, 69, of Manoa was chosen. Wong owns his own healthcare business. No wonder he is so happy.

Hawaii’s unemployment rate remained constant at 6.3% in January. This is unchanged from December, 2010.

However, Hawaii Reporter notes: “Hawaii is one of nine states with the highest underemployment rates in the nation, according to a survey by Gallup Inc. The polling company’s Daily Tracker telephone survey found the Aloha State and eight other states had underemployment of 21 percent to 24.9 percent. That means at least one out of every five people in the state’s workforce were either unemployed or working a part-time job when they desired a full-time position. … Hawaii was in the highest range, in a group that included Illinois, North Carolina, Oregon, Florida, Nevada, Mississippi, Michigan and California.”

Another good story in Hawaii Reporter this week, this time about Black Press Ltd., the Canada-based owner of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, which had its most profitable year last year.

Hawaii Reporter said: “An earnings report filed by Torstar Corp., which owns almost one-fifth of Black Press, shows the Victoria, British Columbia-based Black Press had an about $17 million profit excluding impairment charges during 2010. That compared with about $12.9 million of earnings in 2009. The year was a busy one for Black Press, which publishes more than 100 weekly and daily newspapers and shoppers. It bought more than a dozen newspapers, at least four of which it closed. The purchases included the Honolulu Advertiser, which Black merged with its Honolulu Star-Bulletin to create the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. In the process it fired more than 450 people as CEO David Black combined the operations while hiking advertising rates and prices for commercial printing at his Kapolei press.”

The State Council on Revenues meets Thursday afternoon and is expected to release a more cautiously optimistic longer term forecast.

Aloha Happy Campers! Calling all teens and parents to join Winners’ Camp Leadership Academy this Spring Break! Winners Camp is currently accepting registrations fortheirr March 14-18 and March 21-25 camps: Spring Break is just around the corner! Visit their website for complete information:
www.winnerscamp.com or call 808-306-8008.

The Department of Land and Natural Resources, Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands (OCCL) yesterday  held a public hearing in regards to the Honolulu Seawater Air Conditioning, LLC’s conservation district use application (CDUA) for the use of submerged State lands located offshore of Kaka‘ako, O‘ahu.

The Maui Matsuri organizers announced that nominations are being sought for the 2011 Maui Matsuri Business Award. Nominees will be considered on the basis of their participation and support of the mission of the Maui Matsuri which is to preserve and perpetuate the Japanese culture on Maui.The nomination form is accessible online at http://www.mauimatsuri.comwww.mauimatsuri.com or by calling committee chair Leon Matsui at 264-0840.   The deadline for submissions is April 22. For general information about the upcoming 11th Annual Maui Matsuri, call the Matsuri hotline at 283-9999.

Walmart has begun construction of its new store in Kapolei.

Wally Zimmermann reports CB Richard Ellis Group Inc. (CBRE) has been named to the annual roster of the Most Admired Companies in the U.S. real estate industry compiled by Fortune magazine. He says the survey covers 57 industries and is one of the most definitive report cards on corporate reputations.  CB Richard Ellis is the highest-ranked commercial real estate services company on the list. CBRE is the leading full-service commercial real estate company in Hawaii.

Thursday, March 31, is Smart Business Hawaii’s next  monthly Sunrise Networking Breakfast in the Pineapple Room at Macy’s, Ala Moana from 7 to 8:30 am. Sunrise is held the last Thursday, monthly, through November. This month’s speaker is “Surfer Joe” Joe Teipel. Joe is a well known sports commentator and a business auctioneer. He’ll discuss the growing trend in business auctions as a means of selling commercial property in Hawaii. Members at SBH Sunrise enjoy a complete buffet breakfast, free exhibit area, networking, and business introductions to boost their business. The public is welcome and parking is free at Ala Moana Center. Call Darlyn (808-396-1724) for reservations.

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