Lingle Right Before State

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State Centered ‘State of the State Offers Surprises, Controversy, New Beginning for Hawaii’ Gov. Linda Lingle addressed both Houses of the state Legislature yesterday, offering lawmakers, members of the public and the media a review of her plans beginning in 2003 through 2007. She focused primarily on measures to boost the economy, restore trust in government and strengthen public education, though she did propose solutions to Hawaii’s increasing drug problem. In audience were state Legislators, former Governors George Ariyoshi and John Waihee, former first lady Lynn Waihee, Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona, Congressman Neil Abercrombie, Congressman Ed Case and his wife Audrey, and three county mayors. Conspicuously absent was former Gov. Benjamin Cayetano, the Democrat who defeated Lingle in the General Election in 1998, but is blamed by many in his party for essentially sealing Lingle’s 2002 win because of his hostile and dictator-like leadership style. While the audience was enthusiastic giving Lingle a standing ovation at the conclusion of her speech, many of the Democrats, including Abercrombie, sat stone faced without offering applause. However, the county mayors, including Democrat Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris, clapped enthusiastically when Lingle, who is a former mayor, proposed giving 100 percent of the revenue from unadjudicated traffic fines back to the counties, something the mayors have long fought for. Senate President Bobby Bunda also was pleased that Lingle supported one of his most controversial proposals introduced during his speech on the opening day of the Legislative session to mandate the drug testing of public school students. Some of the more surprising ideas that Lingle debuted included weakening the hold Hawaii’s public unions have over Hawaii’s public education system by exempting school principals from the public union and by giving charter schools more autonomy and double the funding they currently are authorized. Also surprising was Lingle’s backing of Bunda’s proposal to drug test children in public school. Though in her speech she called the testing “optional,” she and her lieutenant governor later explained the testing is mandatory for all students unless parents opt out their children. They say if children test positive for drugs, they will be sent to mandatory counseling, though no criminal charges will be filed against them. Saying the concept is new to Hawaii and needs to be studied further, Lingle and Aiona could not yet answer questions about how the information would be collected, where it would be stored, who would have access and who would run the testing. Predictably Lingle continued to plug her concept of breaking up Hawaii’s single, statewide, centralized school district into seven districts, a measure that will require changing Hawaii’s state Constitution through a constitutional amendment presented to the public during the 2004 General Election. “The people of Hawaii want better schools, with real alternatives for children who have not been able to thrive in a one-size-fits-all statewide system. They want a system that puts the interests of the children above those of anyone else, including union leaders and politicians. They want schools that prepare their children for a better life,” Lingle said. Also surprising was Lingle’s timid proposal for tax cuts. During her campaign for governor, she pledged not to raise taxes and to fight for tax cuts on food and medical services. Yesterday, she said the state could not yet afford to take the expected $240 million tax cut, and proposed instead a more modest reporting change for low income residents, a move expected to cost the state between $20 million and $50 million. Republicans in both the House and Senate earlier announced in their legislative packages their steadfast support to remove the excise tax on the sale of food and medical. Lingle stressed she will look for more ways to cut waste in government and is auditing every department as promised during her campaign and early days in office. She again pledged not to touch the state’s Hurricane Relief Fund, a $180 million fund former Gov. Benjamin Cayetano earmarked before he left office to balance the 2003 state budget, a move that will immediately create a $180 million shortfall. She promised to make up the state’s $3 billion unfunded liability in the state retirement system and give $10.3 million owed to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. Under Lingle’s leadership, there will be more scrutiny of Hawaii’s procurement system and more openness in the bidding process. Lingle says her administration will make the government bidding system more transparent through a “reverse eBay” system earlier proposed to her by a state worker. But the state will need to find a way to make up for the $3 billion, both because of the obvious legal obligation, and because it would be “morally wrong to push this debt onto the shoulders of the next generation,” she says. Overall her speech did propose many groundbreaking concepts for Hawaii in the areas of education, economic reform and government accountability. However Lingle will surely face criticism from public unions, whose leaders will feel threatened by her proposals, by Democrats who will remain partisan, and by conservative Republicans who will feel Lingle’s proposals were not strong enough in the area of tax reform and economic stimulus. To see her complete speech, go to: “State of the State – Jan. 21, 2003” ‘Reforming the Election, Campaign Processes Might Finally Happen’ Gov. Linda Lingle also called for reforms in Hawaii’s election, campaign spending and procurement laws. The Democrats and Chief Elections Officer Dwayne Yoshina have flatly refused for all the years they’ve been in power to post the election results of each poll at each poll before the results are delivered to the central counting center at the Hawaii State Capitol. The argument by Yoshina and others who support him is the media would run from poll place to poll place (including those on the neighbor islands), frantically add up the results from each one, and incorrectly add up results, leading to misinformation disseminated to the public on election days. However, Lingle and the majority of Republicans disagree, saying it is necessary to post the results to prevent fraud in the election system. Lingle is proposing mandatory posting of election results at each precinct, and mandatory recounts in especially close elections. She says the public also is rightly concerned about the large amounts of money contributed to political campaigns by businesses that then get millions of dollars in non-bid contracts. “Accordingly, I ask that you enact a law prohibiting political contributions by anyone benefiting from non-bid contracts,” she says. Lingle is reinforcing the position of the state Campaign Spending Commission and several lawmakers who passed legislation last year to this effect, but was vetoed by the former governor who himself benefited from this exchange of government contracts for campaign donations. “Randy Roth and Lenny Klompus S – S 2003 Centered” ‘Appointee May Face Rocky Road to Confirmation’ The majority of Gov. Linda Lingle’s appointees should be confirmed without delay or hassle by the Hawaii State Senate, largely because many of the appointees are business people from the private sector with little or no state government experience and little exposure to Hawaii politics. However that may not be the case for at least one appointee -? State Attorney General Mark Bennett -? for three main reasons. Many of the state Senators are attorneys who do not like the private law firm Bennett came from ?- McCorriston Miller Mukai MacKinn. That is in part because the firm is defending current Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris, leader of a different and competing faction of the Democrat party, and his appointees and campaign managers against possible criminal charges that may be filed against them by the Honolulu City Prosecutor. Bennett has not been involved in the Harris defense, but is a litigation partner with the firm. Bennett also was appointed by the federal court to defend Felix consultants Ivor Groves and Judith Shrag from subpoenas issued by the state House-Senate Felix Investigative Committee looking into the $1.4 billion spent on Felix related services since 1994. Shrag and Groves refused to appear before the legislative committee to discuss how they have profited from their involvement in Felix and about some of the decisions they’ve made as appointees for the court, something that greatly upset the committee. In addition, Bennett, who will face a state Senate with 20 Democrats and 5 Republicans, was the legal counsel for the Republican Party of Hawaii in 2002. Bennett will surely face an uphill battle to confirmation with these potential three strikes against him. ‘Taxi System to be Revisited by New Task Force; Contract Temporarily Procured to One of Three Bidders’ One of the most contentious procurement situations currently under way is at the Honolulu International Airport, where the current monopoly taxi operator -? SIDA of Hawaii -? has fallen more than $680,000 behind in rent payments to the state over the last 16 months. The state Attorney General recently tried to negotiate an aggressive repayment schedule with SIDA, which included an increase in what the company has been paying monthly from $15,000 to $35,000. But SIDA has not attempted to repay the debt, nor is the company willing to pay the $35,000 per month, as it did two years ago. “Lingle and Awana 2003 S – S Image” According to Bob Awana, chief of staff for Lingle, that led the state to consider bringing in a new company to operate the taxi system on a temporary basis until April of 2003, giving the administration time to study the taxi system at the airport. The contract has not yet been signed. But Awana confirmed in an interview last night with that the company, which will likely take on the contract, is The Cab, one of three companies that expressed interest in operating the taxi airport system by submitting an intent to bid notice in December 2002. Two other companies submitted intents to bid, including VIP and Roberts Hawaii, though Roberts currently operates the bus and shuttle system at the airport, leading other taxi operators to claim Roberts would have monopoly on airport transportation if selected. The Cab is willing to operate the system on a temporary basis until the state can construct a new system and pay the state $35,000 per month, Awana says. Meanwhile, the Lingle administration is convening a taxi taskforce tomorrow to determine the kind of system that should be in place at the airport ?- closed or open. They will have to decide if one company should operate the service, allowing only its cabs to provide transportation from the airport, or if the system should be open to all qualified and licensed taxi drivers. In the past, SIDA of Hawaii operated the cab system for 40 years, with just a 2-year exception when a company called OTM took over. Competing companies claimed SIDA treated their drivers unfairly thereby violating its contract with the state -? a position that was supported in a 1998 lawsuit filed in First Circuit Court, Harris vs. SIDA of Hawaii. The court’s ruling was never enforced by the state and SIDA of Hawaii continued its anti-competitive practices, according to several sources in the industry, which they say ultimately led to poor service for airport customers. ‘Taxi Procurement Change May Come at Bad Time for Oahu’ When the contract to operate the taxi system at the Honolulu International Airport briefly changed hands from SIDA of Hawaii to OTM in 1994, SIDA’s operators did not go quietly into the night. The company had the contract for nearly four decades, and its operators were not pleased when the contract was let to another company. In fact, according to those cab drivers working at the airport during the change over, SIDA was down right mad. In retaliation for losing the contract, SIDA personnel reportedly vandalized state property, ripping out toilets from the facility the company vacated, cutting communication lines and ordering the electric power be turned off. When OTM took over, the new operators could not communicate with cabs, use the bathroom in the facility or even turn on the lights. There was a brief interruption in taxi service at the airport, but the experienced operators and other cab drivers in the industry pulled together to make the system work until everything could be repaired. According to state airport directors, no action was taken against SIDA for the severe vandalism, and in fact, the company was later rewarded by again winning the contract from 1996 to 2002. Those in the industry now fear history will repeat itself when The Cab takes over SIDA’s operations. They say they already are hearing that the company has plans to once again not go quietly into the night. Unfortunately for the state, the timing could not be worse as more than 16,000 people are expected to pour into the state for the ProBowl, scheduled for a week and a half from now, right in the heart of the transition. ‘Doing Hard Time With a Diet for the Rich and Famous’ No, the testimony by Dept. of Public Safety directors in a Senate Ways and Means hearing yesterday was not about how to feed the rich and famous in Hawaii. Rather about the way the state feeds its prison inmates. In addition to allowing for special religious practices and providing educational materials, entertainment facilities, exercise equipment and $13 million in excellent health care annually (better than most children, single moms and low-income children in Hawaii) the state also is careful of the meals the prisoners are fed. Apparently the food services department spends $10 million annually for prisoners in order to provide multiple therapeutic diets including vegetarian, bland, diabetic, reduced fat, low fat, low cholesterol, low sodium, renal, liquid and aids/HIV. And still the department is requesting more money to make sure that all of the nutritional needs of all 4,000 convicted prisoners in Hawaii are met. ‘Public Safety Director Finds New Home ? Back in Prison’ Ted Sakai, former director of the state Department of Public Safety, has left his post because he was not reappointed by Gov. Linda Lingle, according to his own statement yesterday in the Senate Ways and Means Hearing. However, Sakai will not be released from the prison system yet -? he will manage Hawaii’s most troubled prison ?- OCCC -? which is extremely overcrowded and has been the site from which many prisoners have escaped. He voluntarily took the position and will start in two weeks. Senators jokingly questioned Sakai as to whether he’d be living in the prison, or managing it. ‘New Hero or Scoundrel Voting Feature a Hit, Kawamoto Not’ Sen. Cal Kawamoto, D-Waipahu, was the first legislator to be put on an unofficial trial as a hero or scoundrel for his proposals to raise Hawaii’s gasoline taxes by 2 cents to fund a rapid transit or light rail system. Hawaii’s gasoline taxes already are the highest in the nation. Ironically, Kawamoto signed a pledge with the Americans for Tax Reform that says he will not introduce, support or vote for a tax increase. Breaking his pledge did not sit too well with readers. The results ?- 155 people voted Kawamoto a scoundrel, while 11 people voted him as a hero. ‘Vote Lingle – Hero or Scoundrel – For Education Reform Proposals’ Today Gov. Linda Lingle is on trial for her controversial education reform proposals offered yesterday in her state of the state address. Make sure to vote. The system is set so no one can vote more than once and so that results will be forwarded to the person featured. Regularly, a new person and their proposal will be featured, giving people a chance to voice their opinions on issues important to Hawaii and to send a message to the leaders of the state.