Voting Issues Scrutinized at Election Commission Meeting

Published to the Hawaii Kai NHB #1 Report  for October 26, 2014.

Testifying at Elections Commission Meeting

The Hawaii State Elections Commission held its post-primary meeting last Friday, August 22 before a packed crowd at the State Office Tower. Chief Elections Officer (CEO) Scott Nago was on the hot seat as a the commission reviewed procedures and troubling issues surrounding this year’s primary election. The public also presented oral and written testimony.

I asked the commission to replace the CEO (as I had in 2012) and fix election procedures to make sure that the integrity of the process can improve by the November 4 general election.

Among the issues that came up in the primary election:

Change of make-up election from a mail-in process to a walk in process at the last minute on the Island of Hawaii after 2 precincts in the Puna district were closed on election day.

Late count of 800 “Discovered” Maui ballots from Hana.

Notification of the make-up election process on the Big Island.

No accountability for past and present errors in the election process by the Chief Elections Officer.

Wrong ballots delivered to precincts in 2012.

No plan B in case of natural or manmade disasters.

Vote counts prematurely released before voting was done.

After the commission met in executive session, it was noted that the Elections Office would be reviewing their procedures.

Senator Slom’s Testimony (PDF Link – August 22, 2014)

Chief Elections Officer’s Report – (PDF – August 21, 2014)

Photo: Senator Slom testified at the Election Commission meeting.

2014 April GET Collections Still Down Compared to 2013

Senator Sam Slom continues to urge spending restraints because of the slow recovery of the state and national economies.

The 2014 April General Excise Tax (GET) collections are still down compared to the same month last year, although slightly improved on March 2014.

GET-8-2014The USA national Gross Domestic Product (GDP) numbers for Quarter 2 are up 4% in comparison to Quarter 1[2], although on an annual basis the GDP numbers for 2014 are relatively low at around 1.1%.

Senator Slom explains “For the short term, it indicates that both the state and national economies are somewhat improving, however, the improvement is only on a quarter-to-quarter basis. This does support that there is only a very slow recovery going on for Hawaii and the nation. Hawaii needs to be frugal in its spending of taxpayers’ monies, as the economy is very fragile at this moment, and both the state and the nation are cash poor.”

“To ride this slow ride out of recession, Hawaii needs to put away some cash reserves, just like our everyday families do. At this time, as the Hawaii Senate Minority has previously indicated, Hawaii is due run out of cash reserves somewhere between 2017-19 if no significant changes are made in cutting costs (or raising revenue), possibly resulting in a constitutional crisis of the unbalancing of Hawaii’s budget.”

Hawaii’s Downward Spiral Of State Tax Collections Is Alarming

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According to the recently released Department of Taxation’s monthly tax collection reports[1], the general excise tax collections for the first quarter of 2014 are down 4.6% in comparison to last year. To make matters worse, the Federal Bureau of Economic Analysis[2] recently downgraded its -1% estimate of real gross domestic product for the first quarter of 2014 to -2.9%, which is, by far, the worst quarter since the recovery began in mid-2009.

Figures-2014-07-09

The Senate Minority is pleased that the Abercrombie Administration has finally taken a step to curb a portion of the government overspending in the recent decision to restrict 10 percent, or $14 million, of state discretionary spending, however, Senator Sam Slom points out that “this is clearly a reactionary step to the March tax collection reports and steps should have been taken much sooner. The Senate Minority has long cautioned that Hawaii’s economy has not turned a corner yet.” Senator Slom notes “when you talk to small business owners in various industries across the state, it becomes apparent that many businesses have not yet recovered from the recession.”

“While the legislature entered this year’s legislative session, with a Governor boasting of a record high surplus of $844M and a very optimistic outlook of the state’s economy while skirting the subject of our state’s unfunded liabilities (employee retirement and medical benefits) of over $22 billion dollars, it is becoming more and more apparent that the growth spurt in our economy was short lived. Based on these recently released tax collection reports, it is even more important we tighten our belts and identify sensible cuts for the long term to ride this slow recovery out.” says Senator Slom, Hawaii’s Senate Minority Leader.

Senator Slom’s more conservative outlook of the state’s economy was validated by the Council on Revenues, which downgraded the state revenue growth projections from 4.1% at the beginning of the year, to +3.3% shortly prior to the legislative session, then 0% on March 11th, and most recently on May 29th to -0.4% . According to Senator Slom, the recent -0.4% projection of state revenue is still overly optimistic. Slom notes that “if the general excise tax collections for the first quarter of 2014 as well as the recently released U.S. GDP statistics are taken into account, further downgrades of state revenues should be expected.”

Rather than waiting on the next Council on Revenues tax revenue projections, which will be released sometime in September, Senator Slom urges the Abercrombie Administration to take immediate action to avoid the current $450M biannual budget deficit from growing even larger.

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Senator Slom Calls For Legislators To Override Governor’s Proposed Veto

Governor Neil Abercrombie announced his intent to veto a number of bills including SB 2682, CD1 – RELATING TO FINANCIAL DISCLOSURE STATEMENTS.

SB2682, CD1, would make public the financial disclosure statements of members of the state boards, commissions, and agencies, including the public utilities commission, the board of land and natural resources, the board of Hawaii housing finance and development, the Hawaii homes commission, the state ethics commission, the board of agriculture, the public housing authority and many others.

State Senator Sam SlomSenator Sam Slom asks, “Why shouldn’t the public and the media know if state board or commission members or their immediate family members have a financial interest or an association that may affect the member’s decision making? This is just an example of the “same old, same old,” where the Governor and his appointees get to wield power with a distinct lack of public scrutiny. Let’s face it, this veto doesn’t help the people of Hawaii establish any confidence in their government.”

Financial disclosure statements (Financial disclosure forms and instructions) require disclosures of all forms of income, business interests, gifts and real property interests. The person disclosing is not required to disclose savings accounts and retirement accounts. Amounts disclosed are usually in ranges starting at less than one thousand dollars and ending at more than a million dollars, and each range is represented by a letter of alphabet.

Senator Slom states: “This bill passed unanimously in both the House and the Senate. Not even one legislator chose to exercise a reservation vote in the committees or on the floor of either house. This shows the need for transparency and the public’s concern of the lack thereof in this state. The Legislature should convene to vote to override the Governor’s veto. My concern is that, with the 2014 election almost upon us, many legislators will be looking to their party interests instead of state interests.”

A Better Day with State Senator Sam Slom

State Senator Sam Slom talks about the issues in this the latest edition of “A Better Day”. (June 2014) – You can view the show right here or on Cable TV, Olelo Channel 54.