2019 Hawaii Legislative Watch: Reports

Posted March 19, 2019 by Rachelle Chang
Categories: Government

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For the past few years, I’ve read through the bill summaries to find out about the bills being proposed that affect our money, education, and rights. I relied on these summaries to accurately reflect the legislators’ intentions, and I highlighted the bills that I thought needed the most consideration and debate.

This year, I decided to do something different. Instead of skimming through 1,597 House bills and 1,545 Senate bills introduced this year, I thought I’d focus on what government accomplished last year.

During the 2019 Hawaii Legislative session, there are 430 Reports to the Legislature. Here are five of the annual reports that I think deserve careful attention:

Taxes: Department of Taxation (DOTAX) Annual Report

Total State tax collections in FY 2018 were $7.90 billion, a 7.6% increase from FY 2017, which were $7.34 billion. Revenue from the General Excise Tax (GET), accounting for 43% of the State’s total tax collections, increased 4.9% to $3.40 billion in FY 2018 from $3.24 billion in FY 2017. Revenue from Hawaii’s Individual Income Tax (IIT), Hawaii’s second largest tax, accounting for 31% of the State’s total tax collections, increased 11.0% to $2.43 billion in FY 2018 from $2.19 billion in FY 2017. Revenue from the Transient Accommodations Tax (TAT), which increased from 9.25% to 102.5% starting January 1, 2018, increased 9.2% to $554.9 million in FY 2018 from $504.8 million in FY 2017.

Housing: Hawaii Public Housing Authority (HPHA) Annual Report

The Hawaii Public Housing Authority (HPHA) portfolio consists of 6,270 units across 85 properties. Combined, Federal and State housing sheltered 5,193 individuals and families, with average rents of $310 to $387 for families and $251 to $303 for elderly. “Low Income” families earn 80% of area median income (AMI) or less, which is $93,280 for a family of four in the Honolulu metropolitan area. “Extremely low income” families earn 30% AMI or less, which is $34,980 for a family of four in the Honolulu metropolitan area.

Kupuna: Executive Office on Aging (EOA) Annual Report

With funding of $19,269,823, State and Federal services assisted an estimated 7,129 older adults. The Office served 175 elderly with 7,366 one-way trips of assisted transportation, 969 elderly with 46,847 hours of personal care, 285 elderly with 81,499 hours of adult day care, 3,288 elderly with 386,089 home delivered meals, and 268 caregivers with 32,062 hours of respite care for elderly family members.

Native Hawaiians: Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) Annual Report

In FY 2018, OHA generated $60.5 million in total revenue and expended $39.7 million for the Board of Trustees, Support Services, and Beneficiary Advocacy, with total assets of $427.8 million. OHA awarded $8.75 million in grants and $318,040 in sponsorships.

One of the DOT’s goals is to “Increase Voluntary Compliance” by a. Increasing oversight utilizing various branches/areas of our Compliance Division and b. Developing procedures to ensure a more efficient and timely audit process.” They really should add a third strategy, “c. Simplifying the tax code and tax forms.”

Honolulu Rail Transit: Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) Annual Report

HART currently estimates to the cost of Honolulu rail transit at $8.165 billion (excluding finance costs), with December 2025 as the target date for the start of full revenue operations. An interim opening from Kualaka‘i at East Kapolei Station to Hālawa at Aloha Stadium Station is planned for December 2020. As of October 2018, $3.349 billion has been spent on the project, which is approximately 46.8% complete.

The 2019 Hawaii Legislature adjourns on May 2. Please think about these issues and how they may affect you, everyone around you, and future generations. Whether you have concerns or feel strongly about an issue, speak up, talk about it, and be part of the discussion.

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Climate change, home, and mental health

Posted March 12, 2019 by Rachelle Chang
Categories: Community, Health

Tags: , , ,

I’ve been thinking about home recently. The land I grew up on is still there, but the home is gone, replaced by a house that overwhelms the land. Though I didn’t live there anymore, it still makes me feel a sense of loss whenever I’m in the neighborhood.

And how much stronger would that sense of loss be if the land were gone?

The 2018 “Sea Level Rise and Climate Change” Final White Paper, prepared by the University of Hawai‘i Sea Grant College Program, is an alarming summary of the effects of climate change on Hawaii’s environment, communities, and overall well-being.

There are environmental impacts, like more frequent heat waves, worsening air and water quality, rising sea levels, changes in rainfall patterns, changing ecosystems, and more frequent weather effects.

There are corresponding health impacts, like increased respiratory illness, heatstroke, and cardiovascular and kidney disease. And climate change impacts us as neighborhoods and communities, like our ability to travel within and without the islands and our access to food and freshwater.

Beyond the environment and our physical survival, climate change affects our mental health.

How can we thrive with the threat of displacement, the threat of losing our homes and our connection to the ‘aina? How can we address mental health concerns in our disaster planning and community resilience efforts?

In 2018, 700 homes on Hawaii Island were destroyed during the Kilauea eruption, and over 2,000 people had registered to receive aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), according to Pacific Business News (7/9/18).

Also in 2018, more than 100 people lost their lives, and over 17,000 homes were destroyed by California wildfires, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, reported The Weather Channel (3/11/19).

As small Pacific island nations become inhabitable due to sea level rise, lack of fresh water, or other factors, an increasing number of climate change migrants may come to Hawaii because it is similar to the home they left behind. How can we help them thrive in Hawaii? What can we learn from their experiences with the loss of place and loss of their connection to the past?

I’m feeling a little nostalgic about my childhood home. What are your thoughts about maintaining or regaining mental well-being in the face of losing a home?

How connected do you feel to your home? Do you live in a flood or tsunami zone? Are you prepared for a sudden disaster or a slow rise in sea level?

Should governments operate more like nonprofits?

Posted March 5, 2019 by Rachelle Chang
Categories: Government, Taxes

Tags: , ,

Last year, my then 11-year old son and I were watching a TV news story about a fundraiser for a girl with cancer at a Hawaii elementary school. He burst out, “Why don’t they do a fundraiser for rail?”

 

He suggested that government could find kids who would ride rail and tell their stories, like a girl who can’t get to school without rail.

 

“Sometimes kids have better ideas than government,” he said seriously.

 

I didn’t have the HART to tell him that when governments engage in fundraising, it’s called “taxation.”

 

And then I thought: why can’t governments hold fundraisers?

 

Governments are often admonished to act more like businesses, by providing better products (government services), good customer service, and lower prices (to avoid raising taxes).

 

Maybe governments should try to operate more like nonprofit organizations.

 

Nonprofits are usually recognized for their passion for a cause, their commitment to service, and their shoe-string budgets. They don’t have any taxing power, so they rely on donations, volunteers, and in-kind gifts.

 

Instead of raising taxes for everyone, maybe state and city governments could hold annual fundraising campaigns. The people and organizations could donate money to support specific departments or initiatives.

 

Government-nonprofit operations are proven to work; consider the annual school carnivals and Friends of the Library of Hawaii. Schools and libraries are government organizations that really do operate like nonprofits, and are supported by nonprofit fundraising.

 

And possibly the biggest effect on taxpayers: receiving thank you letters instead of tax bills.

 

At the time, I told my son to write a letter to the newspaper outlining his idea and offered to send it in for him. He wasn’t interested, and went back to his homework. But I wanted to share his idea with you.

 

What would motivate you to donate money to government?

“Start With Why” by Simon Sinek

Posted March 2, 2019 by Rachelle Chang
Categories: Book Reviews

Tags: , ,

Many companies are doing business backwards, challenges leadership and organization consultant Simon Sinek. They’re telling us WHAT they do – what the product does, what services are available, what’s new – but what’s really important is WHY they are doing what they do.

And many leaders are leading companies backwards, too – stressing WHAT companies do best, instead of WHY employees should work there.

“Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action” (2009) reveals how we can be great leaders both personally and as businesses. The central idea is that great leaders and great companies are able to inspire people who want to take action – whether it’s buying a product or working for a company.

Great leaders give people a sense of purpose or belonging, understanding the value in the things we cannot see.

Articulating WHY. “People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.” If we start with WHY, we will understand how to do business and what to do. Sinek discusses how businesses manipulate our buying behavior, but these tactics are only effective for individual transactions; they do not create brand loyalty. “Repeat business is when people do business with you multiple times. Loyalty is when people are willing to turn down a better product or a better price to continue doing business with you,” Sinek clarifies. And to create brand loyalty, you need to communicate why you’re in business.

Sinek offers some examples of WHY. Apple empowers the individual spirit. Disney promotes good, clean family fun. Martin Luther King Jr. believed in equality and how we treat people.

Hiring for WHY. “Great companies don’t hire skilled people and motivate them, they hire already motivated people and inspire them.” Sinek voices something we don’t usually put into words: We want to do business with people who believe what we believe. “We are drawn to leaders and organizations that are good at communicating what they believe.”

Staying true to WHY. “The single greatest challenge any organization will face is… success.” It’s easy to lose focus of WHY and start focusing on WHAT. We need to measure success in a way that is true to our WHY, not just products sold or contracts signed. For example, Christina Harbridge founded collection agency Bridgeport Financial based on treating people with compassion, and bonuses are given based not on collections, but on how many “thank you” cards agents send to clients.

Trust matters. When we trust the culture or organization, we are willing to take risks to advance the culture or organization as a whole.  Clarity of purpose makes people take action for themselves. “With a WHY clearly stated in an organization, anyone within the organization can make a decision as clearly and as accurately as the founder.”

The importance of WHY we do things and finding our purpose resonates with me. I want to do work that is meaningful and work with people who believe in the same values. And I want to invite others to share in that purpose.

What is your WHY at work? Does your company’s purpose inspire you to take action? What is your WHY in life?

The architecture of democracy and aloha

Posted February 26, 2019 by Rachelle Chang
Categories: Government

Tags: , ,

The more I visit the Hawaii State Capitol Building, the more I admire it.

When my son was in elementary school, they did a walking tour of the Capitol District. They walked into the courtyard among the tall columns and were met by a legislator, who took them to the Senate Chambers. They went into the Governor’s “public” office and took photos beneath the Hawaii seal. Everyone expected the students to be courteous and well-behaved, and they were.

I really appreciate having a State Capitol where democracy and aloha are built into the very architecture of the building.

The two large, open entryways welcome everyone. We are free to talk to a legislator or testify at a hearing. Entering the building is like stepping onto your cousin’s porch before a family gathering. When you are trusted family, you don’t need to knock on the door.

The tall, concrete columns show us that democracy and a code of laws are strong and stable in Hawaii. Walking through the courtyard creates a sense that we can trust that the code of laws will be upheld and our rights will be protected.

The ceiling is the sky, open to the sun, the winds, and the rain. It reminds us that we are interconnected with nature – and each other. Standing in the courtyard or at the railings on the upper floors, we can wave to each other like neighbors.

There are no gates, no metal detectors, no guard stations, and no excessive security.

So how can we keep legislators, staff, and visitors safe without losing this welcoming feeling of democracy and aloha?

Start with information desks. We could open staffed information desks at the State Capitol Building and the entrance from the underground parking lot. “Aloha Aides” could guide visitors and act as a first line of security. Suspicious activity could be reported to a uniformed security guard or the police.

Prioritize openness and aloha. The Capitol Building has welcomed us for fifty years, since it opened in 1969. Let’s not give up our freedom and feeling of welcome for an atmosphere of distrust and suspicion.

When we step onto the Hawaii State Capitol grounds, we are expected to be courteous and well-behaved, and we are.

How often do you visit the Hawaii State Capitol? How do you feel when you step onto the Capitol grounds?

 

Photo courtesy of Hawaii State Legislature website at https://www.capitol.hawaii.gov.

What do you love doing most?

Posted February 19, 2019 by Rachelle Chang
Categories: Business

Tags: , , ,

A few months ago, I was struggling with an unexpected job offer – one with more responsibilities and more risk. But something was holding me back.

I was reading Adam Braun’s “The Promise of a Pencil” (2014) and he wrote about starting every conversation with potential volunteers by asking the question, “What do you love doing most?”

The question, asked at just the right time, made me realize that this new job would challenge me and take me out of my comfort zone. It could take me away from doing what I really enjoy or it could be an opportunity to see what else I might enjoy doing.

I looked back at all the jobs I’ve had and all the volunteering I’ve done, and I can see how I’ve gravitated to the parts of the job that fill me with enthusiasm.

Just out of school, I stumbled into marketing, which let me put my love of writing to good use in brochures, manuals, and press releases. I followed that path into direct mail, sales presentations, and trade shows. Each move game me the freedom to be more creative.

We don’t always have the luxury of doing what we love, but I try to make sure that what I do fits with what I value most in life. Values stay with me much longer than a job title or an employer.

Valuing family and home, I moved back to Hawaii, though I had a creative and rewarding job. And living in Hawaii has made me open to other creative and rewarding opportunities.

Valuing art, creativity, and education, I volunteered for a children’s art project, school fundraisers, and after-school classes.

Valuing kindness and compassion, I now work for a nonprofit counseling center, changing career paths entirely.

While I don’t enjoy paperwork, operations, and administration, I’m good at it. I do it so that I can do what I love: writing something new, designing something compelling, and being part of something that makes a difference.

Did I take the new job? Yes! I accepted the job on an interim basis. I’m still figuring out how to keep the parts that I enjoy, and delegate or contract out the parts that need to be done (not necessarily by me).

But I’m glad I took that risk. I think that I’m right where I need to be.

What one thing do you love most about job? What work would you do even if you didn’t get paid to do it?

Kindness starts with one

Posted February 12, 2019 by Rachelle Chang
Categories: Community, Family

Tags: , ,

I’ve been immersing myself in happiness over the past few months, learning from the Greater Good Science Center, and figuring out how to make happiness practices part of everyday life.

We can become happier in many different ways, from encouraging empathy and nurturing friendships to fostering gratitude and cultivating a sense of awe. But one of the simplest ways to become happier and spread happiness is to be kind.

Being kind makes us happy, and being happy makes us kind.

Kindness is easy, and it starts with ONE. One person. One cup of coffee, one compliment, one “I love you,” one note-to-self.

On February 17, 2019, we’re celebrating Random Acts of Kindness Day, and it starts with YOU. You can be the one to write a positive note at school or work, thank someone who isn’t usually acknowledged, or volunteer to do a five-minute favor. No one else has to know about it. But you’ll know.

Kindness starts with one, but let’s aim for five. Studies have shown that doing five acts of kindness in one day can make you happier than doing single acts of kindness spread out over time.

Being kind can have a lasting impact, too. You can get a happiness boost by remembering a time when you were kind or helpful or generous… or by remembering a time when someone was kind to you.

I tried a happiness practice called “Three Good Things,” in which you write down three good things that happen to you each day. The goal is to focus on positive thoughts and feelings. I found that it really helped to put my day in perspective, and lessen any worry or stress I felt.

I’m starting to take it a step further and pay attention to whether good things happen to me (like receiving a compliment) or because of me (like giving a compliment).

What will you do on Random Acts of Kindness Day? How will you spread kindness?