It’s budget week, which means voters who elected Mayor Peter Carlisle on his promise to clean up city finances will finally see how he plans to do that. Plus, Honolulu City Council members continue to propose legislation on everything from rail to medical waste. Civil Beat is reporting from the inside.

Prosecutor’s Office Announces New Hires

3:01 p.m.
The Honolulu Office of the Prosecuting Attorney is announcing two new hires: Attorney Mark Miyahira as deputy prosecutor and Honolulu Star-Advertiser editorial writer Dave Koga as an executive assistant in communications.

Miyahira, who earned his law degree from the University of Hawaii’s William S. Richardson School of Law, worked as deputy prosecutor on Maui for nearly a decade in the 1990s. He comes to the prosecutor’s office from the Attorney General’s office, where he’s worked since 2001.

“One of the main initiatives of my campaign last fall was to step up the office’s investigation, charging and prosecuting of nuisance abatement cases as a key tool in fighting the illegal drug trade,” wrote Honolulu Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro in a written statement issued by his office. “Mark Miyahira is an expert in preparing and prosecuting these types of cases and he will be an important addition to this office’s assets forfeiture team.”

Kaneshiro also wrote that new-hire Koga will benefit his office “immensely.” Koga worked for more than three decades in print and broadcast journalism, including a long stint in sports writing and most recently as an editorial writer for the Star-Advertiser. Koga will replace Lynne Waters, who is leaving her job to work within the University of Hawaii System.

Lobbying Confusion in Committee Meeting

2:24 p.m.
A City Council Public Works and Sustainability Committee meeting took a bizarre turn Monday afternoon when former City Council candidate Matthew LoPresti had trouble explaining whether he was a lobbyist. At least two City Council members said LoPresti scheduled one-on-one meetings with them, but didn’t disclose he was a lobbyist.

Read the full story.

Committee Advances Reso to Protect Rail Funds

10:49 a.m.
City Council members on the Safety, Economic Development and Government Affairs Committee unanimously advanced a resolution urging state lawmakers to shelve a string of bills that would interfere with the city’s rail savings.

Senate Bill 1426 would enable lawmakers to borrow $200 million of city rail money, but pay back $300 million.

“It involves tampering with the funding source at a critical juncture when the Federal Transportation Administration is looking over and making sure all our finances are in order,” said Department of Transportation Services Director Wayne Yoshioka. “Any modification or tampering with the local-share funding source is inadvisable at this time.”

City Council member Tom Berg said state lawmakers are adding insult to injury by offering to give the city a bonus that the state took from the city in the first place.

“That $100-million-dollar carrot on a stick … that’s rougly the money they’ve swindled from us on the surcharge,” Berg said. “They only need three percent to process this tax, they’re collecting 10 percent upfront. That’s already the $100 million they’ve taken from us. I don’t buy it.”

Yoshioka also said the city simply can’t afford to give up any of the money. He estimates the city has about $500 million on hand.

“The amount that we have is a current cash balance that’s really spoken for,” Yoshioka said. “The contracts we have currently in place (and the ones we plan to) bring online in the near future. We really don’t have any monies available. We’re going to use all we have in our cash balance.”

Deferred: City’s Request to Incinerate Medical Waste

10:22 a.m.
The City Council’s Safety, Economic Development and Government Affairs Committee unanimously deferred a resolution that would have urged the state to require all medical waste be incinerated.

The decision came after testimony from Kevin Condo, president of sterilizing company Hawaii Bio-Waste. Condo said the way his company handles medical waste doesn’t meet standards at H-POWER, which for safety reasons refused to take two large batches of medical waste during a three-week back-up when Waimanalo Gulch was closed.

“We took three truckloads and the first load apparently contained some needles,” Condo said. “We were only supposed to take red bag waste up there, but we don’t control what goes into the red bags. Needles are supposed to be contained in needle containers. Perhaps it was a needle container that broke open … They turned away the next two loads. Instead, we’ve been allowed to take up to the landfill and relieve ourselves of the backlog.”

Condo — whose company does not have incineration capabilities — also said incineration is being “phased out,” and called it “astronomically expensive.”

In her recommendation to defer the resolution that urges incineration, Committee Chair Tulsi Gabbard Tamayo said she wanted to clarify the measure’s language and extend its scope beyond medical waste.

“There is a problem that needs fixing, and the current status quo is not acceptable,” Gabbard Tamayo said. “I’m going to recommend that we defer, see how we can increase the scope and make sure that there are no unintended consequences.”

City Council to State: Back Off!

9:29 a.m.

City Council member Tulsi Gabbard Tamayo is sponsoring a resolution that formally discourages state lawmakers from advancing measures that would allow the state to borrow city rail funds, or otherwise interfere with the money.

Senate Bill 1426, which lawmakers in the Senate Ways and Means Committee unanimously advanced last week, would enable the state to dip into city coffers to the tune of $200 million, with a promise to pay back the city and throw in an extra $100 million in bonds.

Senate President Shan Tsutsui introduced the bill, and told Civil Beat that Gov. Neil Abercrombie called it a “win-win.”

But Gabbard Tamayo sees it as a potential loss for the city, writing in Resolution 11-65 that it “could jeopardize federal funding for the city’s
rail project by sending a message to the U.S. Congress and the U.S. Federal Transit Administration that the funding source for the project is not reliable and therefore cannot be counted on to fund the city’s share of the cost of the project.”

The resolution also urges state lawmakers to shelve a bill that would cap the portion of transit tax available to the city at $90 million for a four-year period, and a bill that would make the City and County of Honolulu responsible for all highway maintenance on Oahu.

It’s on the agenda for the City Council’s Safety Economic Development and Government Affairs Committee meeting, now underway.

The resolution also urges state lawmakers to shelve a bill that would cap the portion of transit tax available to the city at $90 million for a four-year period.

Kobayashi Urges Switch to Light Rail

Honolulu City Council member Ann Kobayashi filed a resolution urging the Department of Transportation Services to make the switch to light rail. Many rail critics argue the city’s plan for an elevated steel-wheel-on-steel-track system is more obtrusive — and less aesthetically pleasing — than the street-level alternative.

Of course, the city is way past the point of picking technology for its project. Kobayashi made the official request anyway. In resolution 11-64, she also urges the city Department of Transportation Services to coordinate a technology switch with the Federal Transit Administration to minimize delays.

It seems fitting that Kobayashi — who is adept at timing a well-pointed political jab — introduced the measure on Feb. 22, the day the city administration celebrated a ceremonial groundbreaking for the rail project in Kapolei. It was also the day before a full City Council meeting in which Kobayashi was one of three City Council members to try, unsuccessfully, to stop Wayne Yoshioka from staying at the helm of the Department of Transportation Services.

Chances this reso will pass seem slim: The council leans heavily in support of the city’s current rail plans. It’s still worth noting that a well-formed triumvirate of rail skeptics has emerged on the City Council: Kobayashi, Romy Cachola and Tom Berg. Berg and Kobayashi have already floated the idea of again putting the issue to voters, hoping to determine whether Honolulu residents have changed their minds since they voted in support of the project in November 2008. But with nine City Council members, a group of three against six can’t do much but make noise.

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