Gus Downes – Honolulu Civil Beat https://www.civilbeat.org Honolulu Civil Beat - Investigative Reporting Wed, 22 May 2019 02:46:58 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.0.3 Lawsuit Aside, The Film Business Pays Off Big-Time For Hawaii https://www.civilbeat.org/2018/12/lawsuit-aside-the-film-business-pays-off-big-time-for-hawaii/ Wed, 05 Dec 2018 10:01:56 +0000 https://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1311653 Right now, film and TV production is booming in Hawaii, but it’s precarious. The state’s film tax credits are set to be capped at $35 million starting on Jan. 1, 2019. Any cap is dangerous, as it means productions are reluctant to bring shows here. The $35 million cap is also far too low, and […]

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Right now, film and TV production is booming in Hawaii, but it’s precarious. The state’s film tax credits are set to be capped at $35 million starting on Jan. 1, 2019.

Any cap is dangerous, as it means productions are reluctant to bring shows here. The $35 million cap is also far too low, and will most likely result in a substantial decrease in productions. In 2017, the state paid out $55 million, and is set to pay out more for 2018. That’s a lot of money, to be sure, but it brings in exponentially more in economic benefit to Hawaii.

We are a valuable, thriving, and growing industry. Local people are busy working good jobs on “Hawaii 5-0” and “Magnum, P.I.”, and feature films. Graduates of the University of Hawaii’s Academy of Creative Media are working entry level jobs on Hollywood blockbusters. Hotels and restaurants, hardware stores and equipment vendors are doing brisk business.

Films mean big money for Hawaii. “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” paid $193,725 to use Heeia Kea pier in 2017.

Flickr: Jessica James

I am not a neutral observer. I am a member of the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees, chapter 665. I’ve worked my way up on film and TV productions, everything from local commercials, low budget independent features, to the latest blockbusters. I’ve seen firsthand the benefits of having the industry, and lived the consequences of not having enough work.

And now, not only is the fate of the production business uncertain, lawyer and producer Tim Chey has filed a lawsuit against the film office, alleging an anti-Christian bias that prevented him from getting tax credits for his production of “The Islands.” In his complaint for damages, he’s asking “for an Injunction requiring the Hawaii Film Office to cease any and all operations until the FBI, Hawaii Attorney General, (the) Honorable U.S. District Court, and State Legislature clear the Defendants and the Hawaii Film Office of any wrongdoing.”

Tim Chey isn’t someone shy about using the legal system. He’s sued Netflix, claiming they owed him “an absolute minimum of $10,000,000” because they declined to carry his film “Suing the Devil.” He lost.

He sued Orbitz and Air China, claiming they didn’t properly inform him that he needed a visa to travel to Brazil. He lost.

He sued Pure Flix Entertainment, a Christian faith-based media streaming company, claiming they stole his idea for “God’s Not Dead.” He lost.

Currently, he’s engaged in a lawsuit against Facebook in a dispute over ads he purchased. Lawyers for Facebook filed for a motion for summary judgment April 13. His lawyers objected. On June 21, his lawyers filed for a dismissal of the lawsuit (that he started). The case is still active.

I’m not a lawyer, and I do not know whether his lawsuit has any merit. I do know people who worked on his production of “The Islands,” and the people I know weren’t making the “$500 to $700 a day” he quoted to Civil Beat. Tim Chey has also sued the producer and caterer on that production. It’s a shame that his lawsuit, and the one-sided press coverage about it, has maligned the film production business in Hawaii.

A Film Ecosystem

Our industry is unique. It supports an entire ecosystem of businesses, laborers, and artists. Major TV shows and movies, aka, the “big shows,” and the outside money they bring to the state, are vital to sustaining and growing our community. Not only is the economic impact tremendous, but it creates the environment necessary for locally produced independent films to get made, and get made well.

The tax credits do not exist to be a subsidy for Johnny Depp’s salary. They are designed as a rebate on money already spent, and taxed, in Hawaii. It’s far and away different than the sweetheart deal New York just gave Jeff Bezos for bringing in Amazon’s headquarters. The state-designed system in place monitors the expenditures of each movie. If, as the state’s 2016 audit suggests, there are problems with accounting and auditing processes, those problems should be remedied, not used as an excuse to scrap the whole program.

The state tax credits do not exist to be a subsidy for Johnny Depp’s salary.

Think of any major motion picture shooting in Hawaii as one tourist. They come, dump money into the economy, and leave. And when they leave, the landscape is the same.

One example: While shooting “Kong: Skull Island,” the rigging grip department was tasked with building a staircase on the Manoa Falls trail. That was a crew of about a dozen people, working 12-hour days, making their full rate, with overtime. That’s three drivers, three medics, two location reps, all locals. That’s rental fees for trucks, heavy equipment, and stage truss, all rented from local companies. That’s $1,865 in lumber from Hardware Hawaii.

When it was done, the staircase was taken apart, and the lumber donated to Re-use Hawaii. That’s thousands of dollars spent, on one set, by one department (out of many), on one production.

When the mainland crew flies away, while the hardware stores and restaurants and hotels deposit their cash. Locals employed go home with decent paychecks. Hawaii isn’t paying for corporations to have helipads. Rather, money goes into the hands of locals who spend it. And when it’s all over, Hawaii looks the same. Sometimes better. The Boy Scout rule applies: Leave a place better than you found it.

“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” paid $193,725 to use Heeia Kea pier from June 5 to July 3, 2017. Meghan Statts, Oahu district manager of the Department of Land and Natural Resources Boating Division, says the NBC Universal production went “above and beyond” to work with the community. “They held community meetings. They said they wanted to move 50 boats. I said good luck.”

Yet, the production individually negotiated with each boat owner. For the boaters, they built a pier on Coconut Island, and had a boat to get there seven days a week. That’s in addition to paying $1,000 to the boat owners. When the production left, they donated a $38,385.53 security system to the pier.

Big shows pay our bills. Big shows train us. The crews that fly in from across the globe are the top technicians in the industry, employing locals to work with them side by side. On-the-job training opportunities abound. I’m currently working with UH ACM graduates Caleb Baltensperger and Sawyer Chestnut-Pinto are VFX Production Assistants on a big budget feature. It’s worth noting that the 2016 audit of the tax credits was critical that there wasn’t a more formal training and education system linking productions to the tax credits, which is a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of film production work.

Big shows pay our bills. Big shows train us.

Most training is on-the-job training. Paid jobs are always better than unpaid internships, and as more productions come to Hawaii, more UH grads get hired in entry-level positions. They have the opportunity to move up.

I worked with Erin Lau, an ACM grad, on “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” where she was a VFX PA. She’s now a Sundance Native Fellow, her film “The Moon and the Night” won second place at HIFF, and because of that film’s success, she’s now represented by United Talent Agency.

“I want to one day get to the ‘Star Wars’-level productions,” she says. Eventually, “the dream is that I’ll have enough influence to bring projects home.”

An Expensive Industry

Talent can’t exist in a vacuum, either. Movies need gear. Cameras, lights, and scores of specialty equipment are needed to make anything look professional. Hawaii Media Inc is a locally owned equipment rental house. During the filming of “Go For Broke,” a locally produced film about the origin of the Nisei fighters of World War II, there was a scene re-creating the climatic march of recruits of Japanese ancestry on Iolani Palace. To get that shot, the producers had access to a telescoping Supertechno crane. It’s a specialty piece of equipment that can move the camera seamlessly. It’s expensive.

Hawaii Media Inc. keeps Supertechno cranes on consignment. They have to send a certain amount of money every time the crane is rented to the Supertechno company in Europe. When HMI rented it to the producers of “Go For Broke,” they did so for the bare minimum, sending all proceeds to the Supertechno company in Europe. HMI didn’t make a dime. If “Hawaii 5-0” and “Magnum, P.I.” weren’t around to rent that crane, HMI wouldn’t have it in stock, and “Go For Broke” wouldn’t have had access to it.

Every ecosystem consists of interconnected elements, each dependent on another to grow and thrive. The film production business in Hawaii is an ecosystem. I believe it’s one that’s beneficial to the state. In the way a lo’i needs a stream, we need these tax credits, and the productions they bring, to grow and thrive.

It puts people to work. It dumps cash into local businesses. It provides opportunities for our young people to pursue their dreams, and it does so all in the form of an industry that doesn’t require permanently changing the landscape of our home.

I hope the judge can put aside Tim Chey’s request for an injunction. I hope our legislators can continue to invest in this business. I have reason to be hopeful, too.

Extending and improving the tax credits were the focus of House Bill 1328 in the last legislative session. The bill passed the Economic Development and Business Committee, which suggested the bill go even further. The EDB Committee said upon passing it, “Should the Committee on Finance deliberate on this measure further, your Committee on Economic Development and Business respectfully requests that it consider increasing the aggregate tax cap or deleting the tax cap in its entirety.”

A full commitment by the state into this business would go a long way to cementing Hawaii as the go-to tropical shooting location in the world. I hope our legislators see the benefits of keeping this thriving industry in Hawaii.

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Honolulu Zoo has Big Plans for Japanese Giant Salamanders https://www.civilbeat.org/2014/12/honolulu-zoo-has-big-plans-for-japanese-giant-salamanders/ Mon, 15 Dec 2014 10:08:05 +0000 http://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1062140 The Honolulu Zoo wants to bring Japanese giant salamanders to Hawaii, an idea that might be helped by the recent signing of a “sister zoo” agreement last month with the Asa Zoo in Hiroshima. They’re known as Ōsanshōuo, or “giant pepper fish.” When frightened, it secretes an ooze that smells like sansho pepper, a common seasoning […]

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The Honolulu Zoo wants to bring Japanese giant salamanders to Hawaii, an idea that might be helped by the recent signing of a “sister zoo” agreement last month with the Asa Zoo in Hiroshima.

They’re known as Ōsanshōuo, or “giant pepper fish.” When frightened, it secretes an ooze that smells like sansho pepper, a common seasoning for unagi.

They’re not a fish, though. Salamanders are amphibians. They’re also losing their natural habitat to development and invasive species, and susceptible to the chytrid fungus that’s infecting amphibians worldwide.

From left, Joe Schmick, Laura Debnar and Baird Fleming, check out a giant salamander during a visit to Japan. Debnar and Fleming work for the Honolulu Zoo.

Yuki Taguchi/Hanzaki Institute

Giant salamanders are considered living fossils. They have, in the words of Assistant Honolulu Zoo Director Baird Fleming, “remained unchanged for 150 million years.”

In fact, they’re considered a natural monument in Japan, and exceedingly hard to bring to the United States.

“There’s only 21 of these in the entire country,”  Fleming said, “and many of them are at the Smithsonian National Zoo.”

The attempt to bring them to Honolulu started off as “a cool pipe dream,” said Laura Debnar, reptile/amphibian and Children’s Zoo coordinator.

It was aided by the fact that Lois Yoshikawa’s mother-in-law lives in Hiroshima. On a family vacation, Yoshikawa, who works in human resources at the zoo, met with officials at the Asa Zoo, and she must’ve been charming.

“They were excited,” Yoshikawa said about the prospect of working with the Honolulu Zoo.

Then came the paperwork. The Honolulu Zoo had to show the Hawaii Department of Agriculture that it could keep the salamanders contained and safe. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species includes strict requirements on transporting the animals, as well as a commitment toward preserving the species.  The Honolulu Zoo’s Conservation Committee made a deal to provide the Hanzaki Institute in Japan $2,000 a year.

Months ago, Fleming, Debnar, and her husband Joe Schmick, a water filtration specialist, took vacation time to visit Hiroshima to meet with officials at the Hanzaki Institute and Asa Zoo, setting the stage for Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell to meet with zoo officials on his trip to Hiroshima in August.

The salamander is significant in the culture of Japan. When school kids do word problems, they often use salamanders as examples.

“Everything they do seems to revolve around the salamander,” Debnar said.  “The signs on the school, it’s on logos, pillows, drawings, art.”

The Honolulu Zoo had an original design for a new reptile and amphibian complex. Fleming said the city had budgeted $1.5 million for the complex, but a construction bid came back at $5 million.

Still, it has has places to keep giant salamanders now, and an order for special water pumps is on standby if and when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issues an import permit.

This is all not just to have some rare specimens on display. There are strong ties between Hawaii and Hiroshima, a point stressed by Honolulu Zoo officials.

Fleming said the commitment to preserving the habitat in Japan is at the core of the zoo’s mission.

He doesn’t use the word “speciman.” Instead, he said, “when we’re hosting an ambassador of the species, it’s our responsibility to do what we can to help the species.

“We’re trying to position the Honolulu Zoo as a leading authority in the state on conservation matters.”

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Stanley Chang: More Voters Are Over 90 Than Under 30 https://www.civilbeat.org/2014/11/stanley-chang-more-voters-are-over-90-than-under-30/ Fri, 07 Nov 2014 10:02:19 +0000 http://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1057951 While being interviewed on Hawaii News Now during Tuesday’s election returns, Honolulu City Councilman Stanley Chang said, “There are more voters over the age of 90 in Hawaii than under the age of 30.” Councilman Chang was making a point about the need to engage young people in the political process. “There are some really […]

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While being interviewed on Hawaii News Now during Tuesday’s election returns, Honolulu City Councilman Stanley Chang said, “There are more voters over the age of 90 in Hawaii than under the age of 30.”

Councilman Chang was making a point about the need to engage young people in the political process.

“There are some really chilling statistics,” he said, adding “In fact, the voter turnout for young people is the lowest it’s ever been here in Hawaii.”

“So it’s really imperative that we engage with younger voters and we make the case why these issues matter to them. How is this relevant to their daily lives?  And that’s going to be key to the continued success of our state in the future.”

We agree.  But we were surprised by his numbers, so we looked into it.

Is he right?

Maybe.  We couldn’t find an answer.

Chang has not responded to phone calls asking to clarify if he was referring to total registered voters, or the number of those who voted.

Stanley Chang

Stanley Chang with supporters.

Civil Beat

The County Clerk’s office isn’t going to finish cross-referencing the names of who voted until February. But we did confirm that there are more registered voters over the age of 65 than there are under the age of 30.  According to a report provided by Rex Quidilla at the Hawaii Office of Elections, among the 706,890 registered voters, 99,137 were under 30, and 177,479 were over 65.

According to Quidilla and Honolulu Elections Administrator Glen Takahashi, that’s the most detailed voter demographic information they have.

We don’t know how many voters exist over the age of 90, and neither does the state.  But that data is available, just not to the public.

Takahashi explained why that is.

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If you voted, you’ll remember signing the box next to your name and address.  This is recorded, and it’s what the County Clerk’s office is going through the next few months.

Once the office compiles this information, it’s sold to political data processing companies.  The County Clerk’s office doesn’t include date of birth, because that’s considered private.

Still, that data exists somewhere, and there are companies that make a living finding it and selling it to political organizations who use it in crafting campaigns.

It’s possible Chang, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress this year, has one of those private reports. But just based on public information, we have to rate this claim Unverifiable.

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A Campaign Tale of Taxes — and Pledges — Hawaii Style https://www.civilbeat.org/2014/10/a-campaign-tale-of-taxes-and-pledges-hawaii-style/ Fri, 31 Oct 2014 10:06:17 +0000 http://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1056003 Much campaign rhetoric has been flowing over whether Democratic gubernatorial candidate David Ige signed a controversial pledge not to raise taxes more than a decade ago. Ige at first came close to denying it, telling Hawaii News Now: “I do not have explicit memory of signing it (the pledge). I have to admit that.” We […]

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Much campaign rhetoric has been flowing over whether Democratic gubernatorial candidate David Ige signed a controversial pledge not to raise taxes more than a decade ago.

Ige at first came close to denying it, telling Hawaii News Now:

“I do not have explicit memory of signing it (the pledge). I have to admit that.”

We now know that he did sign Grover Norquist’s politically famous pledge. Ige has since acknowledged the action and and Civil Beat obtained a copy of his signed pledge from Norquist’s organization, Americans for Tax Reform. The signature is dated Jan. 24, 2003 and witnessed by someone with awful penmanship.

David Ige ATR tax pledge form

Courtesy: Americans for Tax Reform

We also know he broke it.  In the 11 years since taking the pledge, he’s voted to raise taxes numerous times.  In 2011, he voted to raise the fees for rental cars, vehicle registration fees, and vehicle weight taxes, among others.

Ige’s campaign later tried to fend off any insinuation that he once aligned himself with anti-tax Republicans by declaring it a non-issue.

“This is an attempt by some Republicans to divert attention from the financial mess left by the Aiona-Lingle Administration,” the campaign said in a statement to Civil Beat. “The final two years of their Administration was the first time in state history we ended with deficits despite their imposition of Furlough Fridays, withholding of taxpayers’ refunds, and stoppage of Medicaid payments to our health providers. I may have signed the pledge more than a decade ago but my Republican opponent Duke Aiona never signed it and Linda Lingle signed and broke the pledge within months.”

He’s right, of course. Democrats and Republicans have taken the pledge, and politicians from both sides have broken it when they found that adherence to the anti-tax dogma of Norquist interfered with the job of governance.  This should illuminate the limitations of dogmatic beliefs more than it does the lack of character of public servants.

But we had a more important question: Why would Ige take the pledge in the first place?

It wasn’t a campaign issue; he ran unopposed.  Plus, he didn’t sign until after he took office.  It wasn’t demanded by his party; he is, after all, a Democrat, and a legislator for 18 years prior.  To our knowledge, nobody was demanding his signature in the first place.

His campaign has been asked to explain why he signed, explicitly, in three emails, and has not responded.

We can look at the historical context.  In 2002, Republicans nationwide took both houses of Congress.  Linda Lingle became the first Republican governor in Hawaii.  Ed Case, the “blue-dog Democrat,” had won both special elections to take office as congressman, beating out establishment names like John Mink, Matt Matsunaga, and Colleen Hanabusa.

Maybe Ige was trying to position himself the way Lingle did, as a centrist willing to buck their own party when necessary to serve the higher good.  It’s the tactic now being used by Charles Djou and Duke Aiona, running as Republicans in a solid blue state.

It turns out he’s in good company in Hawaii when it comes to politicians who have taken the pledge and then changed their minds.

Numerous public officials, including former Gov. Linda Lingle, have taken the same pledge, and broken it.  Two years into her first term as governor, Lingle signed Act 156 against the advice of those in her own party.

The law raised the taxes on sales property worth over $600,000 and distributed the funds to, among other things, land conservation, affordable housing, and, to Republican dismay, the state’s general fund.  Ige voted against the tax increase, along with the Republicans in the state Senate.

Lingle defended it.  In an article in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, she said, “Sometimes you can’t do what’s politically expedient for you that allows you to stand up and say, ‘I did the letter of what I said … Our state was in a crisis for affordable housing. I did what was right for all the people in the state, and I put it above my political career.”

Lingle may have upset her party and the Americans for Tax Reform, but she got a glowing editorial in the Star-Bulletin.

It didn’t seem to hurt her, either, as she won re-election the next year.

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GOP Governors Assn: David Ige Voted to Raise Taxes $800M https://www.civilbeat.org/2014/10/gop-governors-assn-david-ige-voted-to-raise-taxes-800m/ Fri, 31 Oct 2014 10:05:47 +0000 http://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1055896 Did David Ige vote for $800 million in new taxes? That’s the claim being made in an ad from the Republican Governors Association. The group is citing a report from Americans for Tax Reform that was released in 2012.  The report was used to attack Democratic governors across the country for raising taxes. It claimed Gov. […]

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Did David Ige vote for $800 million in new taxes?

That’s the claim being made in an ad from the Republican Governors Association.

The group is citing a report from Americans for Tax Reform that was released in 2012.  The report was used to attack Democratic governors across the country for raising taxes. It claimed Gov. Neil Abercrombie raised taxes by $833 million.

Republicans are using that same number, occasionally rounding it to $800 million, in ads and campaign attacks on Ige.  Ige wasn’t named in the report, but because he voted yes on these bills, he’s been cast as a tax-and-spend Democrat.

Republican Governors Association ad

The Republican Governors Association ad

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The report cites five separate bills, all from 2011.  That was months after Abercrombie took office.

The GOP says Ige raised taxes, even though he pledged not to.

Ige counters by correctly pointing to the projected $1.2 billion shortfall left by the Lingle/Aiona administration and asserting that he had to raise taxes in order to fix the GOPs failure to manage the budget.  We’ll leave that political back and forth to the campaigns.Instead, we’re going to look at the report.  Our question is simple:  Is the $833 million figure accurate?

Nope.

The report focuses on five bills that make up that total. First, we’ll take a look at the three related to motor vehicles.

Senate Bill 1328 raised the flat-rate vehicle registration fee from $25 to $45.  A look over testimony on the bills at the time shows estimates to be inconsistent.  The state Department of Transportation ballparked the number at $34 million while a document from the House Committee on Transportation put it at $22.9 million, and a Civil Beat article cited in the report put that number at $20.6 million per year.  ATR says that amounted to $61.8 million.

Senate Bill 1329 doubled the vehicle weight tax.  ATR puts that number at $90 million.  Hawaii DOT testimony put the estimated number at $34.5 million per year.

Both bills originally put all funds raised into state highways.  Those provisions were stripped in each final committee, and all revenue went to the general fund.  Ige was excused on each of those conferences, but voted for the final bills.

House Bill 1039 raised rental car fees from $2 to $7.50 for one year, then dropped them to $3 after June 30, 2012.  The conference committee report puts that number at $60 million.  ATR says that was $180 million.

All together, those three increases, according to ATR numbers, come to $331.8 million.

It appears the ATR researcher simply took the rough estimates at the time, then multiplied each by three.  The report was compiled in 2014, so this would appear to make sense, except the rental car fee was only in effect for one year.  Accounting for the discrepancy, we get $225.3 million.  That’s significantly less than $331.8 million.
 
The other two tax increases had no expiration date, so if we multiplied those numbers by three, we’d get a broad picture of what the costs could be.  Even then, we get $225.3 million.  That’s significantly less than $331.8 million.

The ATR report cited in the Republican Governors Association attack ad also includes Senate Bill 754, which removed General Excise Tax exemptions for a long list of businesses. This bill, which expired after two years, required certain businesses that had been exempt now pay the normal rate of 4 percent.

The ATR report says this cost taxpayers $346 million.  That number is consistent with Department of Taxation estimates the put the 4 percent rate at $161.7 million for FY 2012, and $185.1 million for FY 2013, totaling $346.8 million.

The largest single element was the estimated $200 million raised by removing the exemption that contractors previously had enjoyed when hiring subcontractors.  But Mallory Fujitani of the Hawaii Department of Taxation says that estimate turned out to be lower.

“While the initial guess on the revenue estimate for the suspension of the subcontractor deduction was initially thought to be approximately $200m, I believe the Council on Revenues reduced the estimated revenue impact to $50m (FY12) and $70m (FY13),” she wrote in an email.

There was, in fact, a provision in the bill that required the contractors to fill out extra paperwork in order to get more accurate figures.  But the bill didn’t add penalties for non-compliance, the Department of Taxation does not consider those numbers to be accurate.  All we have to go by are the revised estimates.

Accounting for the difference, that brings the total estimated costs down by $80 million, so SB 754 actually accounted for about $266 million in tax increases, not $346 million.

The final figure in the ATR report comes from Senate Bill 570, which eliminated deductions for those in the top income brackets.  The ATR report says that cost taxpayers $155.4 million.

This one is particularly complicated.  Early versions of SB 570 taxed pension income, eliminated state tax deductions, as well as itemized deductions, and delayed the implementation of deduction increases scheduled to take effect that year.

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The biggest fight in the bill concerned the taxation of pension income of over six figures,  a provision that was only expected to raise $17 million.  It was stripped in the final version of the bill.

Written testimony provided by the Department of Taxation detailed estimated costs of the other provisions in the bill.  The deduction for state taxes was estimated at $17.9 million per year.  Capping the total amount of deductions for top earners was estimated at $22.4 million per year.  And a delay in the implementation of deductions and exemptions would raise $3.2 million, but only for two years.  Department of Taxation estimates put the total cost at $123.2 million for three years.

We tried to check this one against state records, but the information was lacking.  The tax department’s Fujitani said,  “There is no firm number that can be determined based on your question.  We would need to know how much the taxpayer could have claimed, but didn’t.  Also, it would require us to calculate a second tax return for all taxpayers over a certain tax bracket.  Finally, not all taxpayers stay within the same tax bracket, or have the same amount of deductions each year.”

Based on state estimates and data, the five measures in the report by Americans for Tax Reform and used in the Republican Governors Association ads resulted in total increases of $619.9 million — more than $200 million less than the $833.2 million cited in the ATR report.

The claim that Ige raised taxes by $800 million is Half True.

UPDATE: After further consideration, we changed this rating to Half True. The bottom line is while the ATR report exaggerates the numbers in ways that seem to be for political reasons, David Ige did support hundreds of millions of dollars in tax hikes in the time period the ad covers.

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Djou, PAC: Mark Takai ‘Voted for a Pension Tax’ https://www.civilbeat.org/2014/10/charles-djou-mark-takai-voted-for-a-pension-tax/ Wed, 29 Oct 2014 10:06:26 +0000 http://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1056417 State Rep. Mark Takai, now in a tight race with former Congressman Charles Djou for the open seat in Congressional District 1, is being accused of voting to tax pensions. In a new campaign spot, Djou attempts to score political points by claiming he has never voted to raise taxes but that Takai has. The […]

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State Rep. Mark Takai, now in a tight race with former Congressman Charles Djou for the open seat in Congressional District 1, is being accused of voting to tax pensions.

In a new campaign spot, Djou attempts to score political points by claiming he has never voted to raise taxes but that Takai has. The spot contends that, among other things, Takai voted to tax pensions.

Djou’s ad is strikingly similar to a spot paid for by the American Action Network, a Republican super PAC registered in Hawaii as an independent expenditure committee.

But the ads are blatantly misleading.

Pension Tax attack ad Takai Djou

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Takai took several procedural votes on the bill in question, House Bill 1092, moving it to relevant committees. But he twice voted against a final bill involving pension taxes.

In its ad, the American Action Network cites a story in the Hawaii Free Press.

“Even weeks after angry kupuna and union members began crowding committee hearings to protest, Takai voted ‘aye’ for the pension tax bill HB1092 HD1 on Second Read, March 4, 2011,” the article said. “Four days later on Third Read he voted ‘aye with reservations’ for the same bill.”

The article continues: “Takai switched sides after the Senate refused to consider the pension tax.”

But conveniently leaving out the fact that Takai voted against the final pension bill is a deliberate distortion of the legislative process.

When the House introduces a bill, it’s customary for members of the House not to vote against it until it’s had time to go through relevant committees.  Before it’s sent to the Senate, there’s the Third Reading.  House rules dictate that a member voting no would be ineligible to sit on the conference committee should the bill be amended in Senate.  A no vote ties a Rep’s hands, while voting yes with reservations — as Takai did — still allows them the opportunity to change the bill.

The key votes come as a bill moves through final committees and the language becomes finalized. Those votes are the ones that can accurately gauge whether a particular legislator supported a measure.

Djou and the American Action Network are attempting to equate early procedural yes votes with full-throated support. That is, at best, disingenuous, and at worst, deceitful.

The Senate stripped pension language from HB1092 in a floor amendment offered on April 12, 2011. That was within days of the House Finance Committee adding almost the exact same language to Senate Bill 570.

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SB 570 was in the final stages of the process at the time.  It had already made it through the Senate, and only had to get through one conference committee and final vote before it was sent to the governor.

Takai voted no on that bill twice — once on April 8, 2011, and again four days later on April 12, 2011.

The AARP, which was one of the strongest opponents to the pension tax, took out an ad in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on April 28, 2011 to urge seniors to call and thank Mark Takai and others for opposing the bill.  The HGEA retiree newsletter did the same.

The claim that Mark Takai voted to tax pensions is seriously misleading and Djou and the GOP political action committee are leaving out important information that belies their arguments. While we’re tempted to label it a Screaming Lie — outrageous abuse of the facts — the fact that Takai took those procedural votes gives Djou and the super PAC just enough wiggle room that we instead rate this claim  Mostly False.

But to make that statement by willfully distorting procedural votes shows either an ignorance of the legislative process or a cynical bet on the civic ignorance of the voting public.

The post Djou, PAC: Mark Takai ‘Voted for a Pension Tax’ appeared first on Honolulu Civil Beat.

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Mufi Hannemann: Honolulu Is ‘the 13th Largest City’ https://www.civilbeat.org/2014/10/mufi-hannemann-honolulu-is-the-13th-largest-city/ Tue, 14 Oct 2014 10:06:49 +0000 http://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1053906 How big is Honolulu, really? In a forum at the University of Hawaii-West Oahu on Aug. 25, gubernatorial candidate Mufi Hanneman said he had been mayor of “the 13th largest city in the United States.” That seems awfully big for our island community. Is this really the 13th largest city in the U.S.? The first problem: […]

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How big is Honolulu, really?

In a forum at the University of Hawaii-West Oahu on Aug. 25, gubernatorial candidate Mufi Hanneman said he had been mayor of “the 13th largest city in the United States.”

That seems awfully big for our island community. Is this really the 13th largest city in the U.S.?

The first problem: Hannemann lacked the specificity (and speechwriters) Peter Carlisle had in his 2012 State of the City address, when he called Honolulu “the 10th largest municipality in the United States.”

Former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann speaks during of gubernatorial forum at UH West Oahu presented by the West Oahu Economic Development Association on August 26, 2014

Mufi Hannemann at a gubernatorial forum at UH-West Oahu.

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

The distinction between “city” and “municipality” isn’t merely semantic. What we call “town,” is officially referred to by the U.S. Census Bureau as “Urban Honolulu.”  It’s what’s known as a census-designated place, or CDP, in its statistics.  It had a population of 337,256 in 2010.

But the City and County of Honolulu, as we know, covers all of Oahu.  So the “municipality” of Honolulu actually governs a population of 953,207, again using 2010 numbers.

 

Honolulu size of city compared to other US cities

Honolulu is the 11th largest municipality in the United States because the city and county are combined.

It may seem unfair to compare the entire island to cities like Austin or Phoenix, but because we’re looking at these numbers in reference to the number of people the mayor was responsible for serving, we have to look at the entire scope of each municipality.  That eliminates larger metropolitan areas that are undoubtedly connected in culture and geography, but not governmentally.

Dallas and Fort Worth, for example, are connected metropolitan areas, but each city has its own mayor. Larger suburban areas that are not under the jurisdiction of the city government, but are still home to those who work and play in the city, are also not counted.

 

US cities population chart Honolulu

 

We came across some interesting tidbits. San Francisco has an incorporated city and county government, so we counted the entirety of the county. Jacksonville, Florida, has a municipality that governs most of Duval County, but there’s also a few oceanfront towns in the county that elected for some autonomy, and we left those towns out. Indianapolis incorporated its outlying neighborhoods under a program called Unigov. Some towns declined to join, and so are left out of our ranking as well.

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We primarily used census data for the years 2000 and 2010.  We split the difference to come to estimates for 2005, and the numbers for 2013 come from the projections from census.gov. We’re looking specifically for comparisons for 2005 and 2010, as those were the years that Mufi Hannemann took and left office.

San Jose has topped Honolulu in population rankings, making Honolulu the 11th largest municipality in the country.  But in 2010, census figures reported that Honolulu had 631 more residents than San Jose.  That, most likely, was the figure Carlisle used in his State of the City speech.

Hannemann’s campaign has not responded to emails from Civil Beat asking, specifically, which year and metric he was referring to when he called himself mayor of the 13th largest city in the country.  Regardless, it’s safe to say his assessment was slightly off.  It was 11th.  It was 10th for a moment, but that was fleeting.

So Hannemann was wrong with his statistics and his vocabulary. But just barely.

His larger point, however, stands.  He was, in fact, in service to one of the largest populations in the country.

As to the question of how he handled that responsibility? That’s up to the voters in the governor’s race.

BOTTOM LINE: He was wrong about the ranking but the reason he raised it — to point out that he has been the chief executive of one of the largest population areas in the country — is still valid. For that reason we rate this Fact Check Mostly True.

 

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VA Chief: ‘We’ve Grown 20 Percent in the Past Three Years’ https://www.civilbeat.org/2014/09/hawaii-va-chief-weve-grown-20-percent-in-the-past-three-years/ Wed, 17 Sep 2014 10:10:18 +0000 http://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1049345 Hawaii vets have experienced some of the longest waiting times in the nation before they can get in to see a primary care doctor — 145 days was the average although veterans officials have recently said that initial wait time has come down considerably. Hawai’s track record was so bad that U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard […]

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Hawaii vets have experienced some of the longest waiting times in the nation before they can get in to see a primary care doctor — 145 days was the average although veterans officials have recently said that initial wait time has come down considerably.

Hawai’s track record was so bad that U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard has called for the resignation of VA Pacific Islands Health Care System director Wayne Pfeffer, alleging incompetence and misinformation stemming from his office.

But VA officials have blamed a burgeoning patient load, and said so at a mid-August congressional field hearing in Honolulu chaired by U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono at the Oahu Veterans Center.

Wayne Pfeffer, Director of the VA Pacific Islands Health Care System answers questions during a Senate Veteran's Affairs Committee Field Hearing at the Oahu Veterans Center as James Tuchschmidt, VA Interim Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Health on left and Gina Capra, VA Director of Rural Health listen on August 19, 2014.

Wayne Pfeffer, director of the VA Pacific Islands Health Care System, answers questions during a Senate Veteran’s Affairs Committee field hearing in August.

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

In addition to written testimony submitted by high-level VA officials, Pfeffer, the Hawaii director said: “We’ve grown 20 percent over the past three years which is one of the largest growths in the VA system so we have a large number of people coming to our system.”

Has the VA caseload grown significantly in Hawaii?

First, we asked Pfeffer’s office what, exactly, he meant. Grown how?

We spoke to Pfeffer’s executive assistant, Craig Oswald, to clarify.  He says the VA officials presented a simplified number at the hearing to avoid possible confusion over terminology.

What Pfeffer meant, he says, was a 20 percent increase in workload over the last three years.  To trace that number, we’ll have to take a look at both “unique patients” and “encounters.”

The first data set we looked at was that of “unique patients.” According to the VA glossary, a patient is “counted as a unique in each division from which they receive care.  For example, if a patient receives primary care at one VA facility and specialty care from another, he/she will be counted as a unique patient in each division.”

The VA keeps track of patients by their Social Security numbers. Every time a new SSN is plugged in at a doctor’s office, the number of unique patients ticks up one. Should the same person visit a psychologist, then an endocrinologist, and then break an arm, that would count as three unique patients, (and one unlucky hypothetical person.) Follow-up visits with any of those doctors, however, wouldn’t count until the next year.

According to J. Scott Hallmark, administrative officer to the chief of staff at VAPIHCS, “We count uniques because it gives us a sense of how many individuals in a given time period (a year for our discussion) that actually seek services from us.”

Note: The VA measures data in fiscal years, which for the federal government begin Oct.1 and end Sept. 30 of the next year.  Hence, FY11 would mean Oct. 1, 2010, to Sept. 30, 2011.  All data is given in fiscal years unless otherwise noted.

Here’s the numbers the VA gave us for unique patients:

FY11:  26,426
FY12:  28,345
FY13:  30,993
FY14:  34,500  (projected)

That  works out to be yearly increases of 7 percent, 9 percent,  and 11.3 percent between each year. But it’s a 17 percent growth in unique patients from 2011 to 2013.  If we take into account the projected 2014 numbers, it’s a 30 percent increase over three years.

But those numbers for unique patients treated fail to take into account repeat visits, which is important when we’re considering whether the VA in Hawaii has just grown so big that long wait times are a consequence. Should, say, a diabetic need multiple trips to an endocrinologist, that patient would only count as one unique patient, even though the doctor would be working more hours.

This is where the term “encounters” comes in.  The VA uses it to mean total outpatient visits each year.

Those numbers are:

FY11: 268,805
FY12: 291,681
FY13: 315,089
FY14: 337,000  (projected)

(Through the end of August, FY14 saw 308,970 encounters. That makes an average of 28,088 visits a month. The projected number is, by that metric, accurate.)

A look at the percentage difference shows an 8.5 percent, 8 percent, and 7 percent increase in encounters each year.

From FY11 to FY13, that’s a 17 percent increase — 25 percent if we include projected numbers for FY14.

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By these numbers, it’s safe to say Wayne Pfeffer is largely correct in his assessment that the VA Pacific Islands Health Care System has grown by double digits over three years. In the two-year span before he took his position in October 2013, the agency had already grown 17 percent in both unique patients and encounters. But, should we count projected numbers for the current fiscal year, (which we should, it’s almost over)  those numbers jump to a 30 percent increase in patients against a 25 percent increase in doctor’s visits.

We could’ve stopped there, but that wouldn’t tell the whole story. VAPIHCS officials portray the agency as one that’s strained, and doing the best it can. Those numbers tell us that, yes, demand for VA health services has grown in Hawaii and the Pacific islands. But they don’t give us a sense of  how equipped the agency is to do it’s job. 

So we looked at budget and staff.

First, yearly budgets were:

FY11: $222,306,266
FY12: $222,178,888
FY13: $238,735,121
FY14: $251,000,000 (projected)

Across the years, that makes a 0.05 percent decrease, a 7.5 percent increase, then a projected 5 percent increase.

Total, that’s a 12.9 increase increase from FY11 to FY14.

Then we looked at staff.

Numbers we’ve obtained came in the form of FTEE. For those who aren’t accountants, that means “full-time-equivalent employees.” It’s a term the IRS uses to determine how many people, on average, are doing full-time work. Basically, divide total hours worked, by everyone, in a week by 40, and that counts as one person.

FY11: 777
FY12: 799
FY13: 866
FY14: 925  (projected)

Yearly differences were 2.8 percent,  8 percent,  and 6.8 percent. That marks 19 percent increase in staff from FY11 to FY14.

Let’s recap. From 2011, VA Pacific Islands Health Care Services has seen a 30 percent in unique patients, and a 25 percent increase in doctor’s visits but has only seen a 12.9 percent increase in funding and a 19 percent increase in staff.

So, is Wayne Pfeffer’s statement that VAPIHCS has “grown 20 percent over the last three years” true? Mostly, yes, because we’re being generous. But it’s a few percentage points off, and his statement was vague and over-simplified.

More importantly, given that the VA Pacific Islands Health Care System has also seen an increase in workload significantly higher than its increase in resources, we also agree that system growth is very likely a contributing factor to the long wait times, as his testimony suggested.

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