The Color of Money: Honolulu’s Rail Agency Distributes Coloring Books to Promote Project

Honolulu City Council member Tom Berg is asking why city’s Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transit agency charged with constructing the $5.3 billion elevated steel on steel rail project is distributing children’s coloring books at taxpayer expense.

Berg, who represents West Oahu on the 9-member council, said HART is spending taxpayer money on coloring books, key chains, banners, signs, pencils and pens to promote the rail project. Several of these items have been distributed at community events, including the Christmas parade in Kapolei, he said.  Berg also questioned whether city officials were paid to man HART’s promotional booth at these events.

In a recent hearing, HART’s acting executive director Toru Haramayasu told Berg the agency considers the items “educational” so funding came from the rail capital budget. The rail’s entire budget is paid for by Oahu residents and visitors via a 0.5 percent increase in the state’s General Excise Tax on Oahu.

Hirono’s Campaign in a Tizzy Over Lingle’s Choice of Friends

Mazie Hirono and Linda Lingle

Emily’s List, the powerful and well funded Washington D.C.-based advocacy organization that backs liberal, primarily female, candidates for federal office, and has endorsed U.S. Congresswoman Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, in the U.S. Senate race, issued a statement today attacking Republican U.S. Senate Candidate Linda Lingle for her choice of friends, mainly U.S. Senator Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, who made an appearance at a Lingle fundraiser.

“Linda Lingle’s days of pretending to be a moderate are over,” said Stephanie Schriock, President of EMILY’s List. “She may still be dodging questions about whether she supports right-wing Senator Blunt’s infamous proposal to give your boss control of your health care coverage, but she’s telling Hawaii everything they need to know by highlighting Blunt’s support for her campaign at a Washington DC fundraiser.”

Schrioch used Blunt’s appearance to say Republicans want to deny women birth control and in the process have “threatened the health of every man, woman, and child in Hawaii by literally placing your medical decisions in the hands of your boss.”

“If your boss thought childhood vaccinations were wrong, he would not have to cover them under Blunt’s proposal. If your boss thought unmarried women shouldn’t have babies, he could deny their maternity care coverage. It’s nothing short of stunning for Linda Lingle to publicly embrace Roy Blunt just days after his radical amendment was defeated in the Senate. And Hawaii is definitely watching,” she said.

Hirono’s campaign immediately picked up on the release, attacking Lingle for “hobnobbing with Missouri Senator Roy Blunt and a ‘who’s-who’ list of right-wing special interests at a glitzy fundraiser in Washington, D.C.”

Hirono’s campaign also brought former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s name up in the email, even though she was not at the fundraiser. Lingle’s connection to Palin is her introduction of Palin at the 2008 National Republican Convention when Palin was announced as the vice presidential candidate.

“For all her public talk about ‘moderation’ and ‘bipartisanship,’ Linda Lingle is privately cozying up to right-wing extremists like Roy Blunt and Sarah Palin to help fund her campaign — and those are the interests she’d be serving if elected to the U.S. Senate,” Hirono’s campaign said.

The Hirono campaign referred to Lingle as “our Republican opponent” even though she still needs to beat former Congressman Ed Case, D-Hawaii (2002-2007) in the primary election. The U.S. Senate Democratic primary election is both close and contentious, so Hirono’s victory is by no means a sure bet, despite her many endorsements from the Democratic party elite.

(Linda Lingle’s campaign manager Bob Lee sent out this response several hours after Hawaii Reporter asked for comment. Read the full statement here.)

Special Investigating Committee to Convene in Senate

State workers, in some cases, are being overpaid or compensated for work they did not perform. These over payments made to former employees or those state employees on vacation, have lost taxpayers at least $2 million.

This has been the subject of a series on Hawaii News Now.  Over payments were also discovered previously in relation to an investigation at Lihue airport on Kauai.

On Tuesday, March 13, 2012 at 1:15 p.m., in the State Capitol’s room 224., the Hawaii State Senate’s Special Committee on Accountability will look into these issues and see who has been overpaid, why and what can be done about it. Senate Vice President Donna Mercado Kim will chair the investigation.

The committee will review Senate Resolution 20 and Senate Concurrent Resolution 37, which ask the State Auditor to conduct a financial and management audit of State agencies in an effort to determine the true amount of salary overpayments to public employees.

“I intend to examine payroll and sick-leave procedures, as well as current statutes that deal with recovering overpayments.  While it’s troubling that these payments were made to begin with, I’m also concerned by the State’s inability to recover them,” said Senator Donna Mercado Kim, chair of the Senate Special Committee on Accountability.  “After testimony is heard, I am confident that the committee will have a clearer understanding as to the severity of the problem and what course of action should be recommended to my fellow Senators.”

Kim said the resolutions “detail several problems in the system that have caused the overpayments, such as failure to report terminated employment in a timely manner, failure to report reduction of hours and failure to report leave without pay.”

For more information on the resolutions, go to http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/

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