Safari or Hawaii Tax Holiday?

KHON TV 2 News Reporter Andrew Pereira noted in his report Wednesday night that Hawaii retailers will have one more government-mandated requirement to worry about during the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation conference this November because of a tax holiday in place for hundreds of the 20,000 attendees.

“Under longstanding international rules diplomats and consular missions that buy products or services during APEC will be exempt from paying the state’s 4 percent general excise tax (GET) or the 9.25 percent hotel room tax (TAT),” Pereira said. “Any diplomat or APEC delegate with a tax exempt status must present a special card issued by the U.S. State Department’s Office of Foreign Affairs.  The cards feature the symbol of an owl, buffalo, eagle or deer on the lower right hand corner that tells a merchant what the cardholder is entitled to.”

Naturally, the state has to make the tax structure complicated, and if retailers don’t follow it properly and document the exemptions, they could be held liable for the taxes.

The state suggests making Xerox copies of the cards, or at the very least, writing down the “pertinent information.”

More details are listed here.

Bribe or Gift for City Council Members? One Concerned Citizen Demands Answers

While most of Hawaii’s citizens can’t even name their state lawmakers or congressional representatives, one concerned citizen is paying attention and he’s asking some tough questions of the 9 members of the Honolulu City Council.

Roger Schenck of Honolulu wrote a letter to all 9 members of the city council, suggesting that they took a bribe when they accepted a $17,500 “gift” from the Pacific Resources Partners that allowed three of them to travel to a rail conference in the mainland.

He wrote:

“A bribe by any other name is still a bribe. I read with disbelief that all of you voted to accept a so-called ‘gift’ of $17,500 from Pacific Resources Partners to send three council members to a rail-related conference in Washington, DC.  PRP represents 240 contractors who either are doing business with the City or are trying to do business with the city.  That alone should make it a conflict of interest.  There is one reason and one reason only for PRP making the ‘gift,’ and that is to influence future votes of city council members.  You are out of touch with reality if you think otherwise.  Calling it a gift does not make it legitimate.  Conflicts of interests must be avoided and so should perceptions of conflicts of interests.  You can’t deny there is at least the perception of a conflict of interest with the so-called gift.  You need to do the right thing and return the ‘gift’ immediately. It is no wonder the public has such low regard for politicians.”

In a letter to Hawaii Reporter, Schenck said he believes that the City Council is using (or misusing) its authority under the City Charter to accept gifts on behalf of the City and then is using the ‘gift’ to go on junket planned and arranged by the entity giving the gift.

“It is a back-door attempt to get around Conflict or Interests laws which prohibit elected, appointed or other city employees from accepting such gifts.  It is not the first time the Council has use this method to go on trips funded by potential contractors or lobbyists.  It is wrong,”  Schenck said. “The vote was 9-0 to accept PRP’s gift, which to me is nothing more than a bribe to influence future votes in favor of PRP and the companies it represent.”

The only council member to respond to Schenck was Ikaika Anderson of district 3 on the windward side of Oahu.

Anderson wrote: “When I ran for City Council in 2009, I pledged to support the voters’ 2008 General Election decision making steel wheel on steel rail mass transit a part of the Honolulu City Charter, provided that federal funding came through.  I have not wavered from that pledge, and I have asked and will continue to ask tough questions at every turn.  I have met with Federal Transit Administration (FTA, who is the federal regulatory agency overseeing Honolulu’s project that will be responsible for dispersing federal dollars for the same) officials in DC on four occasions- two of these meetings were with FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff himself.

“The information I’ve obtained from such meetings allowed me to successfully challenge the Hannemann Administration a number of times when they kept information from the City Council and the public- my challenges led to the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) now releasing draft financial plans to both the Council and the public.  This was an important gain, as previously we only saw financial plans in their final form which made it difficult to weigh original projections with the final work product.

“The committee that I chair is charged with carrying out Transit Oriented Development (TOD) for our mass transit system.  If TOD fails, our system will very likely fail as well.  The committee is doing everything possible to collect data by looking at what’s worked in other cities and applying that information, to scale of course, to what we are working on in Honolulu.  The RailVolution conference offers many TOD-related forums, and Denver will provide the opportunity to look at TOD as it’s being implemented.

“My point is that it costs money when we travel to perform our due diligence- money I believe is well spent, especially considering that we are building a $5 billion system.  That said, when the opportunity arises to perform our due diligence without expending public dollars, we must consider such opportunities.  The folks paying for our upcoming trip have been angry with me a number of times over the past two years for my line of questioning over Honolulu’s mass transit project and my insistence that we honor the AIA/Kamehameha Schools request for a public hearing of their proposed at-grade option.  They know darn well that nothing they say or do will buy my vote- not that they’ve ever tried, but I’ve shown time and again that I’ll continue to scrutinize the project and disagree with them when I feel such is warranted.  The reasons I voted to accept this gift are 1) there’s no way the Council’s acceptance of this gift will influence my vote on mass transit one iota, and 2) it negates the need to expend public dollars for this upcoming conference.”

Schenck responded to Anderson in a follow up letter that he is not questioning or challenging the Council’s responsibility or work regarding rail., but objects to the acceptance of gifts from organizations that are trying to do business with the City, such gifts being nothing more than a veiled attempt to influence votes.

Schenck writes: “Yes, I know.  No politician can ever be bought with a golf trip, Rolex watches, trips to conferences and conventions and the like when paid with ‘gifts’ from companies doing business with the government or trying to to business with the government.  At least that is what all politicians say in such instances and that is what you said.  It may not be possible for anyone to buy your vote with such ‘gifts,’ but the perception is there.

“The argument that accepting the gift from PRP negates the need to spend public dollars for the trip might be well-received by some people, but not by me and most independent minded and reasonable people.  If it is important enough for council members to attend a meeting or conference anywhere and for any reason, it is important enough to expend public dollar to send them, thus eliminated conflicts of interest or the perception thereof.

“I spent 35 years in government service (US Army) where great emphasis was placed on avoiding conflicts of interest and the perception of conflicts of interest.  It was illegal to accept gifts from anyone doing business with the government or attempting to do business with the government, the exception being promotional items of nominal value like pens, note pads, calendars and the like.  No free meals, no rounds of golf, no parties at karaoke bars, no trips to meetings or conferences.

“Many career officers and civilian employees of the US Army had their career plans come to a screeching halt by accepting gifts such as the council accepted from PRP.

“Similar standards are suppose to apply to the City, but the law apparently is being ignored.   You might want to check the City Charter, Section 11-102, Conflicts of Interest, which says in part that no elected or appointed officer or employee shall: “(a) Solicit or accept any gift, directly or indirectly, whether in the form of money, loan, gratuity, favor, service, thing or promise, or in any other form, under circumstances in which in can reasonably be inferred that the gift is intended to influence the officer or employee in the performance of such person’s official duties.

“This is straight-forward.  It does not matter whether PRP’s gift was made directly to a council member or indirectly through the back-door gift process as was done.  It still is wrong.  You can’t say it cannot be reasonably inferred that PRP’s gift was intended to influence Council members.  There is no other reason for PRP making the gift.   The right thing to do now is for the Council to restore some credibility with residents and taxpayers by giving back the money to PRP.”

Orchestra in Alaska Fundraising for Trip to Hawaii to Play at Pearl Harbor Anniversary

Students in the Lathrop High School band and orchestra in Fairbanks, Alaska, are taking an invitation from former Gov. Linda Lingle to perform at the 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor this December 7, 2012, seriously.

Tonight, they are holding a fundraiser – which includes a concert and silent auction – to raise money for their trip here, according to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

Other schools from across the nation are also invited to perform at the U.S.S. Missouri.

 

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