LETTERS for the March 22 issue
State’s unfunded liabilities tsunami hits Maui
Maui County taxpayers are getting soaked by the rising flood of public pension and health benefit costs, and lawmakers need to bring their past promises in line with what taxpayers can afford.
Every year, Maui County taxpayers fork over payments into the state Employee Retirement System and the state Employer Union Trust Fund. These payments together will be increasing from $50 million in 2017 to $60 million in 2018 and $71 million in 2019.
That 2019 total amounts to an annual cost of $432 for every man, woman and child in the county, up from $304 in 2017. And those costs are expected to continue increasing.
This drastic ramp-up in payments is partly because of rising healthcare costs, but also because of the increased benefits promised to public employees over the years. Over the past decade, benefits for public sector workers have risen five times faster than benefits in the private sector, creating an ever- larger debt for the state’s public pension and health benefits funds.
In order to pay for the debt, Maui County may need to cut vital services from its budget. This means that taxpayers may be paying more and getting less.
Hawaii lawmakers need to begin discussing reforms, such as managing runaway overtime costs and offering updated pension packages for new public employees, to help keep past promises aligned with what taxpayers can afford.
This would help ensure that Hawaii’s taxpayers – as well as its public employees – survive the state’s dangerous tsunami of debt.
JOE KENT, Vice President of Research, Grassroot Institute of Hawaii
This is a site that was built for us – WomenCount is a new crowd funding platform, like Kickstarter or Indiegogo, created to support and elect progressive women.
When I heard you could search through existing “slates” of women candidates, to support the women who represent our values – and get your friends involved, too – I had to get our team on it.
I’ve created my own slate on WomenCount, and I’m asking you to help me support my 11 women Senate colleagues up for re-election. We MUST hold their seats. The Democratic women of the Senate stick together, and the voices of my friends are critical in standing up for healthcare, immigration and other issues we hold dear as Democrats.
This could be a real game-changer as we work to take back the Senate and stand up to Donald Trump – 2018 is shaping up to be the biggest year for women candidates ever.
Here’s the best link: womencount.org/teams/the-blue-wall-hirono/?utm_campaign=2018-3-09-Hirono.
SEN. MAZIE HIRONO
Defying the hawks on the way to a Trump-Kim Summit
Donald Trump’s extraordinary decision to meet with Kim Jong-un has taken all the policy hawks by surprise -and led them to issue all kinds of warnings of impending disaster.
Trump’s decision is extraordinary, because until now, the common refrain from him and all other U.S. policy-makers was that the North Koreans would have to provide evidence of moving toward denuclearization before any talks could take place. To do otherwise, as Trump once said, would be to follow the ruinous path of previous presidents, who were supposedly suckered into sitting down with North Korea and making unilateral concessions.
Now Trump, perhaps in an effort to turn the spotlight away from his domestic problems – the Stormy Daniels affair, the Rob Porter affair, the Russia investigation, the tariff announcement, the Gary Cohn resignation, etc. – has agreed to talks with nothing more than a promise from Kim to put denuclearization on the table.
The hawks are in full throttle over this seeming concession.
Victor Cha, who was slated to be Trump’s ambassador to South Korea until he chafed at Trump’s war talk, warns that “the [North Korean] regime never gives away anything for free.” Cha advises that Trump keep up the sanctions and military pressure that presumably had something to do with Kim’s invitation to a summit.
Let’s try to be objective here; both Pyongyang and Washington have given up something to get to the table, and both have preserved crucial options. Kim Jong-un has promised to halt nuclear and missile testing and accept the reality of U.S.-South Korean military exercises. But his willingness to talk about denuclearization does not mean stopping nuclear and missile research and production, much less reducing his weapons arsenal.
Trump has dropped the “no talks” line but has made clear that sanctions and other forms of “maximum pressure” will continue. The concessions thus far are mutual, welcome, but very limited. I can imagine that Kim, like Trump, will tell his inner circle that “I haven’t given away anything.”
Hawks can’t stomach giving North Korea the international legitimacy it craves. But that is precisely the kind of symbolic gesture that galvanizes an engagement process. As the South Korean delegation reported following its meetings with Kim, he wants North Korea to be considered “a serious partner for dialogue.” That’s not a concession; it’s a necessary incentive for moving forward. And it should be accompanied by a mutual agreement to cease name calling and stereotyping, at least while talks are in progress.
The U.S. and North Korea have an opportunity to move away from threats and toward a major defusing of tensions. Denuclearization – that is, the dismantlement of all North Korea’s nuclear weapons – is only likely to come about, if at all, after both sides take other steps, such as a verifiable freeze on nuclear and missile testing, normalization of diplomatic relations, security guarantees to the North, resumption of economic aid to North Korea and framing of a peace treaty to finally end the Korean War.
A Trump-Kim summit at best can only set the stage for discussion of these topics. But as Churchill said, it is far better to “jaw, jaw” than “war, war.” The hawks’ warnings do not help matters, and in the end they may yet upset the apple cart.
MEL GURTOV, PeaceVoice
‘Gill Girls’ thank volunteers for participating in cleanup
The “Gill Girls,” Mariah and Hailey Gill, would like to send out a huge MAHALO to all the volunteers who participated in our first annual “USC Alumni Day of SCervice Lahaina Town and Coastal Clean Up” on Saturday, March 10!
It was a great success! In three hours, 30-plus volunteers cleaned the streets and beaches ranging from Shark Pit to Baby Beach. Because of their hard work, over 30 bags of trash were stopped from washing into our sensitive ocean. Keeping the streets and beaches of our coastal town free of litter is paramount to preserving the beauty of Lahaina as well as protecting our precious ocean and marine life.
Every cigarette butt, plastic bag, plastic spoon, fork and straw counts, and the cumulative impact of these individual small pieces of trash washing into the ocean can be seen in the devastating existence of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch located in the North Pacific Gyre.
No trash should be left behind or passed by. We have an amazing community of people who share a common love, respect and pride for our special and historic Lahaina Town, and it is so important to continue to foster this pride and to keep it alive for generations to come.
We look forward to hosting and participating in many more town cleanups! Aloha and mahalo!
MARIAH AND HAILEY GILL, Lahainaluna High School Class of 2008/2009, University of Southern California Class of 2012/2013