When the release announcing the Mayor’s proposed 2011 budget opens with phrases like “especially difficult,” “economic reality” and “$53 million dollar [sic] gap,” it’s a safe bet we’re not in for sunshine and rainbows. The budget, which will be reviewed by the County Council before it’s finalized, slashes nonprofit funding, hikes garbage, water and other fees, bumps up bus fares and raises real property tax rates. It also institutes furloughs “equal to one day a month for most County employees, including unionized HGEA and UPW employees, division heads and other managers, and appointed employees, including directors and deputy directors,” according to the County release. And Tavares warns that the $53 million shortfall could balloon to $70 million if the state decides to withhold Transient Accommodations Tax money from the counties. The message is clear, bleak and familiar: money is tight, and we’re all going to be impacted. If you want to weigh in, a series of public Budget and Finance Committee hearings will kick off March 22 and run into April at various locations islandwide. For a complete schedule or to peruse the budget, visit mauicounty.gov…. Earlier this month, the County Council’s Committee of the Whole (which is exactly what it sounds like) voted on various board and commission nominees. We examine a few nominees and one well-publicized controversy in LC Watch (page 7), but the meeting also raised larger questions about the process. I wasn’t able to attend, but obtained footage from Akaku and heard from several readers and contributors who were there. And the prevailing sentiment seems to be: there’s got to be a better way. But don’t listen to me, listen to Clare Apana, who was nominated for the Commission on Culture and the Arts—a position, she told the Council during testimony, she neither applied for nor wanted. “I don’t know anything about art,” Apana said to audible laughter. Two years ago, Apana said, she applied for a spot on the Cultural Resources Commission (CRC). She wasn’t tapped for that post, and said she decided not to reapply this year. So when she got a phone call informing her she’d been selected to a body with “culture” and “commission” in the title, she said she assumed it was the CRC. “This process isn’t serving [people] who show interest in our community,” Apana said. Ultimately, the Council voted unanimously to disapprove Apana, at her request. Councilmember Wayne Nishiki termed the situation “quite disturbing.” He wasn’t the only one. Testifying prior to Apana, Lucienne De Naie called the process “very confusing” and said it seems to occur in a “strange vacuum.” De Naie suggested reinstituting a policy that was in place under former Mayor Alan Arakawa, where a committee was convened to vet, contact and meet with potential nominees. Given the confusion and, at times, bad blood that ran throughout the two-day meeting, it’s obvious something has to change….
As the state, like the County, searches with mounting desperation for funds, it becomes increasingly nonsensical for Gov. Lingle, and many members of the legislature, to oppose SB2213. The bill, for those unfamiliar, would allow the counties to set up medical marijuana dispensaries (euphemistically dubbed “compassion centers”) and establish fees and taxes—namely, a $30 per-ounce general excise tax on sales, plus a $5,000 annual fee for each dispensary. Basically, SB2213 could change Hawaii’s voter-approved medical marijuana law from an unworkable mess into a reliable revenue stream, while giving patients access to medicine. As of this writing, the bill had crossed over to the House and passed through multiple committees. Of course, even if it makes it out of the House, it may not have the votes to override an inevitable Lingle veto. Which means it’s time to ask my favorite rhetorical question: when do we get a new Governor, again?…. After the latest attempt to allow same-sex civil unions fizzled last month, it looked like the church-organized protestors would have to retire their picket signs and red T-shirts for at least a year. But wait: RSVP Vacations, “the original all gay and lesbian cruise company,” plans to celebrate its 25th anniversary with a first-ever voyage to Hawaii. According to RSVP’s Web site, the Spirit of America is slated to make stops on Oahu, the Big Island, Maui and Kauai between October 30 and November 6. Thank God no one aboard the ship will be able to get hitched while they’re here—spending money in the process—or the heads of all the “traditionally” married people in the state might have simultaneously exploded….
Great headline in The Onion this week. Like all the best headlines from “America’s Finest News Source” it has multiple layers of meaning, but in this case it’s also pertinent to Maui/Hawaii: “Nesting Sea Turtle Escorted From Private Beach.”
-Jacob Shafer, MauiTime