Legislators on the Move with host Cynthia Thielen – Honolulu Rail

Representative Cynthia Thielen (H District 50 Kailua, Kaneohe Bay) assistant Minority Floor Leader, discusses the Honolulu rail project with Randall W. Roth, JD,LLM.

Contact: repthielen@capitol.hawaii.gov


Bring The Honolulu Rail Project Back To Planet Earth

No, Mayor Caldwell, raising taxes is not the only way to address the spiraling costs of the biggest public works project in Hawaii history.

headshot dec 2011By Cynthia Thielen  – Community Voice 

This legislative session, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell lobbied hard for extending the general excise tax another decade to fund rail, already the most expensive public works project in state history.

Had the Legislature buckled to that pressure, we would have converted a disappointment into a disaster. After burning through a generous $1 billion contingency fund, the mayor offered no honest accounting for past mistakes, no serious pledge to reduce expenses and no reasonable concessions to economic reality.

Instead, he pinched the “too-big-to-fail” argument from Wall Street bankers and demanded yet another bailout from Hawaii taxpayers.

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell inside the rail project’s first train car.

Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

Last year, the Federal Transit Administration urged the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation to consider “a smaller project of independent utility” within current budget constraints. It conditioned federal funds on cost containment, interim terminus or deferral of certain stations, or new investment. With characteristic obstinacy, Caldwell pursued only the last option by only a single means: raising taxes.

I support bringing the city center segment from Middle Street to Ala Moana down to street level. This sensible alternative would save about $4 billion and four years of construction, while sparing Honolulu’s waterfront from permanent visual blight. By running the trains sooner, we can also use passenger fares to defray some expenses.

Building a street-level portion would imaginatively and prudently combine the measures requested by the federal government. The city has always reserved this as a contingency option should cost overruns doom the original plan for elevated rail. We have now reached that juncture.

Tax increases in any form will only subsidize Caldwell’s reckless hubris and aggressive incompetence.

Saving taxpayer money is not simply a matter of expediency, but of fairness and principle. Extending the general excise surcharge shifts the burden to our poorest residents, who will pay more for groceries and other necessities. Increasing the hotel and accommodation taxes hobbles our state’s primary economic engine. Raising property taxes further inflates housing costs, while devastating seniors and middle-class families, whose homes are often their most significant investment.

Worst of all, tax increases in any form will only subsidize Caldwell’s reckless hubris and aggressive incompetence. No one has supervised this boondoggle longer than he has. Before running for mayor, Caldwell served as the city managing director from 2008 to 2010, the self-proclaimed “primary point person” for rail. On his watch, bloated red tape, numerous design changes and haphazard contract modifications drove costs skyward.

By January 2010, the FTA had already publicly questioned whether Honolulu could afford a $5 billion rail project. Following that report, Gov. Linda Lingle, an early supporter of elevated rail, warned that the city should revise its financing and construction plans to anticipate a federal funding shortfall.

“I don’t know another project except this one that has made no adjustment from a pre-recession to a post-recession proposal,” Lingle said at the time. But rather than return to the drawing board, Mayor Mufi Hannemann and Caldwell pressed heedlessly forward.

When launching his mayoral campaign two years later, Caldwell again dismissed legitimate concerns about cost and funding.

“The current $5.2 billion budget includes a very large contingency and adequate reserves for short-term financing,” he blithely claimed. “Reports that it will cost $7 billion or more are only scare tactics unsupported by anyone except tea party-style rail critics.”

Today, HART’s own cost estimates for the project stand at $10 billion. We can only expect this figure to increase. Construction has not even reached the halfway mark, and the costliest segment through the dense downtown corridor still lies ahead. On current trajectory, rail will probably wind up costing $13-15 billion.

Mile for mile, that’s roughly the cost of the Channel Tunnel connecting England and France (adjusting for inflation). But the “Chunnel” was among the most complicated engineering feats of the last century — 20 miles undersea — and running high-speed trains that could load cars onboard. Moreover, at Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s insistence, private shareholders funded the whole project.

By contrast, under the best case scenario, we will receive a slightly fancier version of the Pearlridge monorail at ruinous cost to ordinary taxpayers. Nor does this include the price for continuous maintenance and repair. Because HART acquired substandard material at premium rates, we have already seen cracked guideways and broken shims before the first train has left its station. Unless we correct course now, these problems will only accumulate and compound.

Enough is enough. Honolulu deserves responsibility, accountability and fairness. Let’s bring this project back down to Earth.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Columns generally run about 800 words (yes, they can be shorter or longer) and we need a photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.com.

About the Author

Rep. Cynthia Thielen is a member of House committees on Judiciary; Energy and Environmental Protection; Water and Land; and Ocean, Marine Resources and Hawaiian Affairs. She is also a member of the Women’s, Keiki, and Kupuna caucuses.

Civil Beat Link to article

Rep. Gene Ward Questions Roll Call Vote on Rail

Reps. Ward, Thielen and Tupola Address Rail Floor Amendments

Representative Gene Ward (H District 17Hawaii Kai, Kalama Valley), Representative Cynthia Thielen (H District 50 Kailua, Kaneohe Bay) and Representative Andria Tupola (H District 43 Ewa Villages, Kalaeloa, Honokai Hale, Nanakai Gardens, Ko Olina, Kahe Point, Nanakuli, Lualualei, Maili) address floor amendments on rail in relationship to SB1183 SD2 HD2 CD1

Contact: repward@capitol.hawaii.gov – repthielen@capitol.hawaii.gov and reptupola@capitol.hawaii.gov

Excerpt from Capitol TV


Reps. Thielen and Tokioka Address Rail Floor Amendments

Representative Cynthia Thielen (H District 50 Kailua, Kaneohe Bay) and Representative James Tokioka (H District 15 Wailua Homesteads, Hanamaulu, Lihue, Puhi, Old Koloa Town, Omao) address floor amendments on rail in relationship to SB1183 SD2 HD2 CD1.  Representative Gene Ward (H District 17Hawaii Kai, Kalama Valley) asks the question “How can we have a voice vote on a billion dollar proration?”

Contact: repward@capitol.hawaii.gov – repthielen@capitol.hawaii.gov and reptokioka@capitol.hawaii.gov

Excerpt from Capitol TV


Rep. Gene Ward Questions Roll Call Vote on Rail

Representative Gene Ward (H District 17Hawaii Kai, Kalama Valley) asks the question “How can we have a voice vote on a billion dollar proration?”

Contact: repward@capitol.hawaii.gov

Excerpt from Capitol TV



Lifetime Achievement Award

surf-riders-life-time-achievemnt-award-with-rep-cynthia-thielenThe Surfrider Foundation is dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the world’s ocean, waves and beaches through a powerful activist network.

At the 14th annual John Kelly Awards in the beautiful Waimea Valley, each year the O‘ahu Chapter hosts this memorable event to honor the legacy of John Kelly, the founder and leader of Save Our Surf (SOS), and to highlight important work.  The theme this year was built on a national campaign called Long Live the Beach.

For the Lifetime Achievement Award, the 2016 year’s winner is Cynthia Thielen, who has been fighting for the environment for decades.  As an attorney, Thielen helped stopped the bombing of Kaho’olawe.  As representative for Kailua in the State Capitol, she has been a strong ally in the fight for renewable energy, coastal protection and preservation of our natural environment.


SB 2659 BILL SIGNING – Relating to Industrial Hemp

SB 2659 – establishes an industrial hemp pilot program through the Department of Agriculture which allows the cultivation of industrial hemp and distribution of hemp seed in Hawai‘i for purposes of agricultural or academic research. Comments by Governor David Ige, Representative Cynthia Thielen and Senator Mike Gabbard.

Bill signing with Senator and Reps

Left to right: Senator Sam Slom, Representatives Della Au Belatti, Cynthia Thielen, Senators Mike Gabbard and Will Espero – seated Governor David Ige.


Patients Caught In The Crossfire Of HMSA’s ‘War On Doctors’

civil beatApril 26, 2016

By Cynthia Thielen

 Patients Caught In The Crossfire Of HMSA’s ‘War On Doctors’

HMSA is harming patients with its war on doctors. This year, the state’s largest health insurer yanked doctors’ previously earned ability to order medical tests without pre-approval delays. This month, it’s changing doctors’ pay. In essence, the less time and tests that a doctor gives patients, the more money the doctor gets.

HMSA’s new payment system replaces the fee-for-service structure that reimburses doctors based on the types of medical services rendered and the number of visits. The new system even rewards physicians with financial bonuses for healthier patients who require less medical care.

So the squeeze is on for caring, skilled doctors and consequently, HMSA’s 720,000 member-patients. The new compensation system is called capitated payments. Some might call it decapitating patients’ rights or crippling doctors, and HMSA’s comments to the contrary are appalling.

Capitation pays doctors a fixed rate that apparently falls between the general range of $20 and $80 per patient per month in a practice – whether or not a patient visits the doctor. Money-wise, the best scenario is healthy patients who don’t visit the office because sicker patients who require more time, care and expensive tests may lead to the doctor’s practice spending more money than it receives.

The danger is that the financial reality could be to limit complicated patient cases because it might take just one patient with a serious illness to bankrupt a medical practice.

The American College of Physicians website says, “Capitation payments are used by managed care organizations to control health care costs. Capitation payments control use of health care resources by putting the physician at financial risk for services provided to patients.”

What doctor who truly wants to help people can survive in a cancerous capitation-payment system? When capitation was previously tried in Hawaii, its malignancy caused local medical groups to hemorrhage significant financial damages. Presently, some doctors are already succumbing to the pressures of capitation by walking away from their practices.

Really, HMSA?

With capitation metastasizing among HMSA’s 3,000 in-network doctors, what chance is there that new or experienced physicians from outside of Hawaii will come here to practice medicine? This includes our state’s own keiki, who are completing their residency in the mainland, hoping to return home to practice. There is no incentive, no livelihood and no hope if this assault on the healing profession continues to escalate.

Hawaii is lucky to have a wise, respected and much older community in its midst. Add to that the baby boomer generation, aged 52 to 70 in 2016, who are the highest adult users of health care services. Our need for more – not less – highly skilled practicing doctors is obvious.

Many doctors are speaking loud and clear about being thrust into a position that could lead to hurting patients due to an insurance company’s bottom line taking precedence over people’s well-being. HMSA needs to go back to the drawing board in its newly renovated multi-million-dollar building with lavish bathrooms and find better solutions. Rethinking its budget appropriations for new construction would be a start. Perhaps members could pay adjustable monthly premium rates to HMSA – based on patient satisfaction. That’s our cost-containment, our bottom-line priority and our best interest.

As one practicing doctor recently sarcastically lamented to my office, “I will be happy when the insurance companies not only make all the rules for practicing medicine, but also are liable for the results.”

 headshot dec 2011

 About the Author

Rep. Cynthia Thielen is a member of House committees on Judiciary; Energy and Environmental Protection; Water, Land and Ocean Resources; Housing; and Consumer Protection and Commerce. She is also a member of the Women’s, Keiki, and Kupuna caucuses.