MAUI LAND PENSIONERS (AND MAYBE LIPOA POINT) SAVED!
Looks like state officials have figured out a scheme to relieve Maui Land & Pineapple of its pension benefits crisis. “A bill to purchase land at Lipoa Point for permanent preservation passed unanimously out of the State House of Representatives on Thursday,” stated a Mar. 1 press release from Maui County Council Chairwoman Gladys Baisa. “I fully support the acquisition of Lipoa Point.”
The bill is HB 1424 (a similar bill, SB1372, is currently working its way through the state Senate). But if you find all this a bit odd, it’s probably because you can remember back to August 2012, when Baisa was one of five members of the County Council who voted to take Lipoa Point out of preservation. But don’t worry, there’s no disconnect between her earlier vote and current acquisition support.
“The parcel was pledged against a pension fund,” Baisa said in her Mar. 1 press release. “Passage of this measure will also ensure the safety of pension benefits for hundreds of Maui Land & Pine retirees.”
I love Baisa’s use of the phrase “will also,” as though the bill does something other than clean up a mess she helped create back in August. Her wish to save the benefits of “hundreds” of former ML&P employees also seems a bit modest. At the time of the August vote, Councilman Mike White, who also voted to take Lipoa Point out of preservation, said doing so would help 1,600 retirees.
“Much of my decision was based upon the fact that ML&P has been required by the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (“PBGC”) since October 2011 to post collateral to insure their $18.7 million of unfunded retirement liability,” White wrote in an Aug. 9, 2012 post on the Mauicouncil.org blog. “If all of the 270 acres of land were left in ‘Preservation,’ the market value would dramatically decrease and effectively force ML&P into default with PBGC.Once in default, many pensioners may lose the value of their retirement benefits. A recent study showed that the average decrease in a retirement plan that has defaulted to the PBGC would be over 28 percent. I want to ensure that the more than 1,600 retirees who worked hard, many of them doing hard labor, are able to support their families and live out their golden years with the full benefits they have earned.”
And the Maui County Council couldn’t allow that. Never mind that ML&P is a publicly traded corporation–its pensioners were in danger because the company couldn’t handle its own benefits package, so the Council decided to step in and put one of the island’s coastal jewels into jeopardy.
Though to be fair, ML&P probably had the council over a barrel. Given the numbers White cited, pension default was probably inevitable. And that would have meant the taxpayers coming in and absorbing the funds. They would have paid pennies on the dollars to the company’s retirees, which is about as fair as asking taxpayers to pay a publicly traded company’s pension bill in the first place. But this way, the county gets a gorgeous park out of the deal, so I guess it’s for the best.
Of course, the plan isn’t foolproof. All the bill does is set up general obligation bonds for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) to buy the land. Negotiating a purchase price is a long way off.
But that should be easy, right? Let’s see… in his blog post White mentioned “$18.7 million of unfunded retirement liability” on ML&P’s part. So all that needs to happen is an independent appraiser comes in and–totally independently, because this is a real estate transaction–says the Lipoa Point lands, some of which are zoned conservation and others agriculture, are worth at least $18.7 million.
Anyone want to speculate on what goes down if that doesn’t happen?
MORE BAD VET NEWS
Given that it’s not too often that we read the words “Tasers” and “AK-47 assault rifle” and “Waikapu” in the same sentence, I kinda have to say something about the little incident that went down in that sleepy neighborhood on Friday, Mar. 1. The Maui News reported the particulars of the incident, in which Maui Police officers Tased Christopher Hook and then apparently struck him with a flashlight after numerous residents reported that he had allegedly been firing an AK-47 into the air. Police found Hook allegedly waving around a large knife when they arrived on scene, though they located the rifle later in Hook’s truck.
It’s a small detail about that truck that leaped out at me. “Hook’s license plate identified him as being a combat veteran,” the paper reported on Mar. 3, attributing the information to Maui Police Department acting spokeswoman Karen Wong.
Look, I don’t know if Hook is a veteran or not, but I wonder if we’ve reached a point where we hear about some guy (allegedly) firing an assault rifle wildly into the air and then aren’t surprised to hear that he was once a member of the U.S. armed services and fought overseas. In just the last month, we’ve read about how veteran Eddie Ray Routh allegedly shot and killed former Navy SEAL Christopher Kyle–who apparently held the most confirmed kills of an American sniper–at a gun range where Kyle another another friend were trying to counsel Routh, who was apparently suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. Barely a week ago Rolling Stone published a huge investigative story exposing “the military’s culture of sex abuse, denial and cover-up” that, among other things, quoted a former female Marine Corps captain as saying, “Sexual assaults make up the fabric of daily American military life.” And the story of escalating suicides, both of active and inactive service members, in the military (the U.S. Army reported 325 suicides in 2012, the “highest on record,” according to a Feb. 2 CNN story) is so old that I wonder if anyone flinches when hearing it.
While it’s certainly true that the vast majority of servicemembers and veterans do not rape and pillage when they return to the U.S., it’s also true that it would be very nice if a mention of an alleged shooter’s combat vet status spurred something more than an incidental mention at the end of a news story.