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.

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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.

Hawaii Senate Informer: Life of a Bill

Our Senate Minority Videographers produced this informative video on the process of a bill from introduction, to hearings, to crossover, and passage at the legislature and ultimately into law if enacted by the Governor. Some bills are also vetoed.

Hawaii Senate Informer: How To Get to the Capitol

Need to get to the Capitol? Our Senate Minority Videographers have put together this informative video. Check it out!

KHON TV: Where Politicians Spend Your Money

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On Monday, May 12, KHON TV Investigative Reporter Gina Mangieri reported on how State Legislators use their annual Legislative Allowance. Senator Slom has not used his annual allowance since first taking office in 1997. The KHON report focuses on legislative allowance expenditures for the last two years (2013 – 2014).

From her report:

“Over the past couple of years, Sen. Malama Solomon’s office (D-Hilo, Hamakua, Kohala, Waimea, Waikoloa, Kona) has turned in the most for allowance reimbursements at more than $21,000. Sen. Sam Slom (R- Hawaii Kai, Kuliouou, Niu, Aina Haina, Waialae-Kahala, Diamond Head) has turned in the least — as in none — followed by Brower at second-lowest with only about $5,800 reimbursed over two years.”

The full video report and link to the Legislative Allowance Search Tool is at the following URL:

http://khon2.com/2014/05/12/allowance-questions-where-politicians-spend-your-money/

KHON Legislative Allowance Search Tool

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Above image generated from the Legislative Search Tool.

Hawaii State Senate Day #59

Senator Slom holds up a graphic representation of a check paid back to the taxpayers symbolizing the amount of money he did not use from his Legislative Allowance up to 2013. Image from the 2013 session.

Industrial Hemp Bill Becomes Law

Industrial Hemp Bill Signed Into Law
Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed Senate Bill 2175 (Act 56), a measure that allows the University of Hawaii (UH) College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR) to establish a two-year industrial hemp remediation and biofuel crop research program. The industrial hemp bill has been supported for years by State Rep. Cynthia Thielen and Senator Sam Slom.

Act 56 authorizes the growth and cultivation of industrial hemp in accordance with requirements established by the federal Agriculture Act of 2014, which allows higher education institutions and state departments of agriculture to conduct industrial hemp research.

Act 56, which takes effect July 1, requires the state Department of Agriculture to certify the industrial hemp seed stock and verify that plants grown are not marijuana. The program will be limited to one test site. It also states that the dean of the UH CTAHR must submit a final report, including any proposed legislation, to the Legislature prior to start of the 2016 legislative session.

Industrial Hemp Bill Becomes Law

State Rep. Cynthia Thielen and Senator Sam Slom at the Governor’s office in their hemp shirts.

Senator Slom calls out Governor on Jones Act

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Senator Sam Slom called for Governor Neil Abercrombie to seek an exemption to the Jones Act ship build requirement. Senator Slom stated: “The Governor should follow the recommendations of his committee and should immediately seek an exemption from the Jones Act, particularly the ship build requirement. The Jones Act ship-build requirement is the main contributor to the high cost of living in Hawaii. Hawaiian residents are paying 68% more for food than mainlanders. I want to know, and I am sure the people of Hawaii want to know, when the Governor is going to ask for a Jones Act exemption for Hawaii?”

Senator Slom’s comments addressed a news release stating that Matson will be increasing the cost of fuel surcharges from 39.5% to 42.5%.[i] The Governor’s own task force, the Hawaii Refinery Task Force (HRTF), proposed that the state seek relief from the Jones Act ship build requirement in its final report published by DBEBT on April 9, 2014. Senator Slom wants to know “What the Governor plans are for seeking a Jones Act exemption and what is his timeline for relief to our state taxpayers?”

Senator Sam Slom has been a vocal opponent of the Jones Act ship build requirement and most recently, joined a multi-jurisdictional movement for a Jones Act exemption with Alaska and Puerto Rico. Slom noted that Guam passed a resolution on April 15, 2014, also seeking relief from the effect of the Jones Act. Slom wonders why the Governor has not already placed a plan for Jones Act U.S. ship build requirement relief into motion, “Our governor can contact the White House, federal senators and congressmen if he chooses to, in order to petition for an exemption. It is a simple matter of writing a letter or two, and making some phone calls. Hawaii needs relief from the Jones Act now.” Recommendations made by a governor appointed HRTF support Slom’s position that Hawaii will benefit from a Jones Act exemption.

The Hawaii Shippers Council president (Michael Hansen) also summarized DBEDT’s press release and the Governor’s response to the HRTF Final Report[ii]: “Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie (D) established the 30-member Task Force by Executive Order No. 13-19 dated February 19, 2013 to identify the challenges and risks if one or both refineries in the State were permanently closed. The Task Force was attached to the DBEDT’s Hawaii State Energy Office for administrative purposes and two private sector consultants – ICF International and Poten & Partners Inc. – were contracted to provide technical support and compile the Task Force report. Governor Abercrombie endorsed the Task Force’s Final Report in the official press release announcing its public availability, “This final report validates the importance of a sustained and reliable energy supply for the people of Hawaii.””

Senator Slom responded to the Governor’s HRTF endorsement saying, “What we need now are real solutions, with real economic impacts, that relieve our local residents from the escalating prices they pay as a consequence of the Jones Act.”

Photo: Matson container ship in Honolulu Harbor. The shipping company will be increasing its fuel surcharge once again. Matson is a longtime supporter of the Jones Act.

Daily Prayer Could Be Restored for Hawaii State Senate Sessions

In light of yesterday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling, prayer could return to the Hawaii State Senate by next session. State Senator Sam Slom is interviewed on KITV 4 News.

It’s a Better Day for the Month of May

Senator Sam Slom’s latest edition of “A Better Day” features Senior Legislative Aide Noelani Bonifacio and Senate Minority Session Attorney Timothy Sutton in a discussion on legislative actions that happened this session. The program airs on Olelo Channel 54. The show streams online at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WyGgOKkziDw