Governor’s Maui Council of Neighbor Island Advisors to Focus on Issues Facing Maui Farmers

The Governor’s Council of Neighbor Island Advisors for Maui meets today, Wednesday, February 17, 2010 at 5 p.m. at the Mayor Hannibal Tavares Community Center. 

Guest speakers will include:

Anna Mae Shishido, Maui port supervisor, Plant Quarantine Branch, Department of Agriculture, will speak on the agricultural inspection services on Maui.

File Image.

Warren Watanabe, president of the Maui Farm Bureau, will address issues facing Maui farmers.

Henry Oliva, deputy director, State Department of Human Services (DHS), and Sandie Hoback, a consultant, will speak on the DHS proposal for a reorganization of public assistance eligibility processing functions.

Governor Linda Lingle created councils of neighbor island advisors to give neighbor island residents a stronger voice in state government. The Governor’s Council of Neighbor Island Advisors for Maui holds monthly public meetings to seek community input, advise the Governor of important issues and make recommendations for state boards and commissions.

The members of the Governor’s Council of Neighbor Island Advisors for Maui are: Madge Schaefer (chair), Kathryn Ghean, John Henry, Lori Ululani Sablas, Gail K. Takeuchi and Leona Rocha Wilson.

Lingle Proposes Structural Reform of Hawaii School System

By Wendy Osher

Governor Linda Lingle is calling for structural reform of Hawaii’s school system. In her State of the State Address, Lingle announed a proposal to introduce a constitutional ammendment calling for the transition of the Department of Education into a cabinet level department. Under the plan, the superintendent of schools would be hired by the next governor, “…so all of us will know clearly ‘where the buck stops’,” said Lingle.

“It is time for Hawai‘i to make the Governor accountable for public education,” Lingle continued.

 

A press release issued by the Governor’s office today said, “The current school system lacks clear lines of authority, responsibility and accountability. Because the Governor, the Legislature, the Board of Education, the Department of Education, and the Superintendent of Education all have roles to play, the public does not know who to hold accountable for consistently mediocre performance.”

Specifically, this bill amends the State Constitution to make the Department of Education into a “principal department of state government” (i.e., a cabinet department). The State Constitution provides generally that a principal department has its leadership (whether an executive officer or a board/commission) nominated and, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, appointed by the Governor. According to the measure, a board of education becomes unnecessary under the proposed structure.

Lingle said the measure would make the Governor directly accountable for the condition of public education within the State, as the Governor will be held accountable for his or her selection of superintendent, and the subsequent educational performance under that superintendent.

The measure states, “This will improve the State’s ability to effectively and expeditiously manage educational resources and execute policies and procedures.”

A companion measure is being introduced to make the necessary statutory amendments that set out the specific structural details of the proposed new relationship between the Governor, the superintendent, and the Department of Education.

Provisions in that measure would repeal the powers and duties of the publicly elected Board of Education; establish the Department of Education within with state administration to serve as a cabinet-level department; and authorize the Governor to appoint the superintendent of education, subject to confirmation by the State Senate.

Abercrombie To Leave Congress On Feb 28 To Focus On Gubernatorial Bid

U.S. Congressman Neil Abercrombie will leave his post in Washington on February 28th to focus on his run for Hawaii governor.  The 71-year-old lawmaker is resigning after serving 19 years in Congress.  He said the departure date will enable state elections officials to plan for a timely and cost-effective special election for his First Congressional District seat.

U.S. Representative Neil Abercrombie issued the following statement regarding his resignation from the U.S. House:

“Three weeks ago, I announced my intention to resign from the U.S. House of Representatives in order to devote all my efforts to the 2010 campaign for governor of the State of Hawaii—a decision that followed a tremendous amount of thought and careful consideration. It was a decision inspired by the thousands of people who are frustrated by a collapse of leadership in our community but are encouraged by the opportunity in this New Year for a change in direction for our people and our state.

“Since announcing my intentions, I have consulted closely with the people I have worked with during my 19 years in Congress, including members of the Hawaii congressional delegation, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and the chairmen of two of my committees, the House Armed Services Committee and the Natural Resources Committee. These discussions have helped me to ensure that I will be able to fulfill the remaining duties requiring my presence in the House. This work, most notably, involves providing my continuing support for legislation on health care and the Akaka Bill. I’ve discussed with House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton the transition of my chairmanship of the Subcommittee on Air and Land Forces. I’ve also discussed the Akaka Bill with Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall who will continue working for all of us to move the measure to the House floor where it has received approval before

“As a result of these discussions, I can now set the effective date of my resignation for February 28, 2010, which will enable state elections officials to plan for a timely and cost-effective special election for the First Congressional District to select a successor who will carry on the work of the people.

“The past few weeks have reminded me that my 19 years in Washington, D.C. as a U.S. Representative from Hawaii have allowed me to build strong, lasting, and life-long relationships with many colleagues on both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill and throughout the federal government. Most of all, I have been privileged to be a part of an effective Hawaii congressional delegation which has accomplished so much to improve the quality of life for the people of Hawaii and nation. I take all of these experiences and friendships with me into the future, as part of a proven partnership involving the state government, Congress, and now the White House, to change the direction and leadership of our state.”

Kahului Library gets $77,000 for Air Conditioning

More than $4 million in state funds were released for improvements to public libraries across the state.

Kahului Library. Photo by Wendy Osher.

The Majority of the funds, $2,570,000, will be used to finance additional design and construction costs for energy efficiency projects at public libraries statewide.

Governor Linda Lingle also released $77,000 in additional construction funds for the replacement of the air conditioning units at Kahului Public Library.  The total estimated cost for the project is $477,000.  The project is scheduled to be completed in July 2010.

Similar improvements are being done at the Hawaii State Public Library where an additional $1,500,000 will be used to replace the building’s air conditioning towers.  The towers are almost 18 years old and in recent years have had repeat problems with leaking water onto the roof of the library.

“Public libraries serve an important role in our state. Therefore, they must be kept safe and provide a comfortable educational environment in which our residents and students can read, do research and learn,” said Governor Lingle.

Planned projects include installation of photovoltaic systems and window tinting to control room temperatures and lighting.  In addition, selected libraries will undergo retro-commissioning to systematically optimize building systems so they operate efficiently and effectively.  Retro-commissioning buildings is done to reduce operating and utility costs, extend equipment service life and reliability, and reduce the volume of emergency or trouble calls for maintenance staff.  The improvements are expected to be completed by summer 2010.

The effort supports the Governor’s Hawai‘i Clean Energy Initiative, which aims to have 70 percent of Hawai‘i’s energy come from clean sources by the year 2030, including 40 percent from renewable energy and 30 percent through energy efficient measures.

(Posted by Wendy Osher; Supporting information provided by the Office of the Governor, State of Hawaii)

Maui Electric Seeks 9.7% Rate Increase

Maui Electric Company is requesting a rate increase for Maui County customers in 2010.  The 9.7% increase translates to $28.2 million.  The funds generated are projected for use toward capital improvement projects and increased operating and maintenance costs.

MECO President Ed Reinhardt.  File Photo by Wendy Osher.  February, 2007.

MECO President Ed Reinhardt. File Photo by Wendy Osher. February, 2007.

If the full request is approved by the PUC, a typical residential home on Maui would see a $13.43 per month increase for a total bill of $172.46.  That is reflective of 600 kwh monthly use.  On Lanai, (500 kwh per month), the likely increase would be $14.61 per month for a total bill of $181.80.  And on Molokai, (500 kwh per month), the likely increase would be $13.65 per month for a total bill of $172.69.

If approved, the earliest anticipated time frame for the increase to take affect is mid-2010.  MECO’s last rate increase of 3.7% was received in December 2007.  Company officials say the 2007 increase was the first in nearly nine years.

Company Predient Ed Reinhardt acknowledged the challenging times, but said MECO must also make investments for service reliability.  “We’ve made concerted efforts to contain costs and improve efficiency, but we must also make the investments to fulfill our responsibility to provide reliable service to our customers,” said Reinhardt.  “A strong electric grid is also the backbone needed to support the integration of even greater amounts of renewable energy for our customers,” said Reinhardt.

FUNDS PROPOSED FOR CIP PROJECTS AND SERVICE RELIABILITY

Company officials say the increase would cover more than $122 million in new capital projects to improve service reliability including the installation of a new photovoltaic system at the Kahului Baseyard, and the replacement of control systems at generating units in Maalaea.  The company released the following list of major projects on their radar:

  • Replacement and upgrade of power plant control systems for Maalaea Generating units M17 and M19.
  • Installation of a new 100-kW photovoltaic system at MECO’s Kahului Baseyard to incorporate solar energy into MECO’s facilities.
  • New or expanded substations to support past and future growth and improve service
  • Replacement and upgrade of underground lines to improve service reliability
  • Investments in transformers, poles, meters and other facilities to maintain reliable service and fulfill new service requests from customers.

MECO’s requested increase would also cover costs for more frequent inspections of utility poles and lines and increased tree trimming around power lines for greater reliability and more extensive servicing of generating units to maintain efficiency.

The proposal also includes a lower depreciation expense which incorporates new proposed depreciation rates that distribute recovery of the cost of capital assets over a longer period of time.

MOVE TOWARD RENEWABLE GENERATION

As part of an energy agreement signed under the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative, Maui Electric, Hawaiian Electric and Hawaii Electric Light Company agreed, along with Governor Linda Lingle, the State of Hawaii Consumer Advocate, and the State Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, to pursue a new regulatory model called “decoupling,” that would de-link the earning of revenues from electricity usage.

“This could be a game changer that sets a new environment for us to work even more with our customers to help them use energy efficiently and to use more renewable sources,” said Reinhardt.  Company officials say the level of revenues set in the rate case, could be used to set the base starting point for decoupling.  The PUC is evaluating the details of the decoupling model in a separate docket.

Company officials say the decoupling model could move the utility away from earning revenues based on the amount of electricity sold and instead encourage the utility to help its customers use less electricity and install more distributed renewable generation.

PUBLIC HEARINGS PART OF PUC REVIEW

The PUC is expected to hold a public hearing on the proposed 2010 increase in the next few months and an evidentiary hearing in mid-2010.  The PUC may grant an interim increase within 10 to 11 months following the application, but the PUC is not obligated to do so.  The timing and amount of any final increase is up to the discretion of the Public Utilities Commission.

(Posted by Wendy Osher; Information Provided by Maui Electric Company)

Governor Lingle Responds to HSTA Furlough Vote

Governor Linda Lingle praised Hawaii’s teachers for ratifying a new contract that will result in 17 unpaid furlough days off, equating to an approximately 8 percent pay cut.

File Photo by Wendy Osher.

File Photo by Wendy Osher.

Lingle said she realizes it is not what teachers, students, and families had hoped or planned for, “but it reflects the state’s economic and fiscal realities.”

“They understand that everyone must make a shared sacrifice to help our state get through this difficult period and for State government to live within its means,” said Lingle.

The state DOE and the Board of Education have been working together to determine how to realize a 14 percent savings imposed by the governor to help close the growing budget shortfall.

There will be two furlough Fridays per month beginning on October 23rd with the exception of three furlough days in the December.

“The furlough days will present challenges, but like other situations, our residents will come together to kokua, and ultimately come up with real, common sense solutions.  Moreover, I know the private sector will jump in to help, especially in the area of day care,” said Lingle.

“I am confident our teachers will remain committed to their students and will find innovative ways to make the best of these challenging circumstances to ensure our children get the best possible education,” Lingle said.

(Posted by Wendy Osher; Lingle Statement provided by the Office of the Governor, State of Hawaii)

GOVERNOR LINGLE STATEMENT ON HSTA PRELIMINARY SETTLEMENT

The Governor and the Hawaii State Teachers Association reached a preliminary settlement in an ongoing discussion of labor negotiations.

Governor Linda Lingle. File photo by Wendy Osher.

Governor Linda Lingle. File photo by Wendy Osher.

In a statement released this afternoon, Governor Linda Lingle said, the agreement recognizes the state’s growing budget shortfall and is in the best interest of teachers, students and the general public.

She thanked the Department and Board of Education for taking the lead in the negotiations, in coordination with her own negotiation team.

“My negotiation team, including the budget director and the attorney general, are currently reviewing the proposed contract and I hope to reach a decision soon,” said Lingle.

“I appreciate the public’s patience as we continue dealing with a widening budget deficit while trying to make certain we maintain the highest quality education possible under the circumstances,” said Lingle.

Details of the preliminary settlement have not yet been released.

(Posted by Wendy Osher)