First two

April 16th, 2014
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Former Lt. Gov.  James "Duke" Aiona has started fundraising for his Republican campaign for governor.

Aiona held a $50 per person fundraiser in Kapolei on April 5 and has a $55 per person event scheduled for Waialae Country Club on Wednesday night.

Aiona, who lost to Gov. Neil Abercrombie in 2010, had not been aggressively raising money when he informally rolled out his campaign earlier this year.

HB 1700 -- Day 1

April 15th, 2014
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State Rep. Sylvia Luke and Sen. David Ige opened conference committee negotiations on the state budget Tuesday afternoon with a reminder that it was their cautious approach to state spending last year that positioned the state to handle a downgraded revenue forecast.

Luke, the chairwoman of the House Finance Committee, said it was unfortunate that expectations were raised by the state's record $844 million budget surplus at the end of the last fiscal year.

While Gov. Neil Abercrombie has touted the record surplus in his re-election campaign, the governor, Luke and Ige have been consistent in explaining that the surplus did not mean the state would go on a spending spree.

Luke and Ige have pledged not to go back on the state's promises to address unfunded liabilities in the public worker health care and retirement funds and replenish the state's rainy day and hurricane relief funds.

"Let us be clear: without significant adjustments in the budget, we are in deficit spending," said Ige, the chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee who is challenging Abercrombie in the Democratic primary. "That means we are spending more than we are collecting in revenues over the next five years. This is a trend that is unsustainable and is the challenge for our conference committee on the budget."

Even before the Council on Revenues downgraded the state's revenue forecast in January and March, the state's two-year budget presumed that the state would spend more than it took in through tax collections, a concern masked by the surplus.

Since this is a supplemental budget year, most of the focus is on the roughly $12 billion in state spending for fiscal year 2015, the second year of the biennium. But Abercrombie had proposed some reductions for this fiscal year -- fiscal year 2014 -- so there has been some discussions on adjustments this year.

On Tuesday, Luke and Ige announced that negotiators had reached agreement on several important items:

*$1.5 million for Housing First, a homeless assistance program.

*$1.2 million for early intervention services in the state Department of Health.

*$1 million and 50 positions for enrollment support at the University of Hawaii-West Oahu.

*$9 million for increased utility costs at the state Department of Education.

House and Senate negotiators will meet again in Room 309 of the state Capitol at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday.

Ige joked that he has been known as "Doctor Doom" over the past few weeks, so he said he hoped the imperial yellow polo shirts that senators and committee staff were wearing as a sign of unity would "brighten up the proceedings this afternoon."

Until House and Senate conferees close the budget, other bills that have financial components are on hold. Lawmakers have until midnight on April 25 to finish work on bills so that final votes can be taken before the session adjourns on May 1.

Stacked

April 15th, 2014
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The state Senate has named conferees on the minimum wage bill, and some have noted wryly that the committee is stacked with senators who wanted to accept the House version of the bill and avoid conference negotiations.

Sen. Clayton Hee, the chairman of the conference committee, wanted to take the bill to conference, as did Sen. Maile Shimabukuro.

But Sen. David Ige, the co-chair, and Senate Vice President Ronald Kouchi and Sen. Les Ihara, Jr., preferred to accept the House version.

HFFA

April 15th, 2014
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The Hawaii Fire Fighters Association announced on Tuesday that it will endorse Gov. Neil Abercrombie's re-election campaign.

The union represents about 3,100 active and retired firefighters.

“Governor Abercrombie has stood by our side for over 40 years,” Bobby Lee, the HFFA president, said in a statement. “We first endorsed him in 1974. Since that time, he’s consistently supported us on labor issues and fire and public safety matters. There’s no one more qualified to lead this state to a brighter future.”

Abercrombie is facing state Sen. David Ige in the Democratic primary.

Apology

April 14th, 2014
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Gov. Neil Abercrombie apologized on Monday for casting doubt on a letter from U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye that urged the governor to name U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa as his successor.

Abercrombie told the Los Angeles Times in an interview last week that whether the letter “could be construed as Sen. Inouye’s dying wish  — let me put it this way  — is problematic.”

“I apologize to the late Senator Inouye, his wife Irene, his family, friends, and former staff for the comments I made concerning the letter,” Abercrombie said in a statement. “I regret that my comments were interpreted as hurtful and disrespectful to them. That was certainly not my intent. Sen. Inouye was, without a doubt, one of the finest leaders in Hawaii’s history, and a mentor to me.

“Selection of Sen. Inouye's successor was one of the most difficult decisions of my political career. I had three worthy nominees from the Democratic Party to select from. In my discussions with Senator Inouye, it was clear that he preferred Colleen Hanabusa. In the end, however, he told me, as governor, you have to make the decision you think is best for the people of Hawaii."