Welcome to Capitol Watch. There’s a new governor, new leadership at the Legislature and other government branches, and Civil Beat is reporting on all of it.

4:03 p.m. Senate Prez Assures Maui on T.A.T.

MauiNow.com says Maui legislator and Senate President Shan Tsutsui said he would work to ensure that Maui County retains its cut of the transient accommodations tax.

Tsutsui, the first Senate president from the Valley Isle and the youngest president in state history (he is 39), spoke at the inauguration of Maui County Council members this morning.

“As we continue to build upon the relationships between the state and the county this legislative session, let us focus on working collaboratively, and not turning against each other or attempting to raid one’s coffers in order to make up for financial shortfalls,” he said. “And, If I have anything to say about it, which I believe I do, Maui County will continue to retain its portion of the T.A.T. for years to come.”

3:49 p.m. Impact Fees for Big Isle Projects?

The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reports that the Hawaii County Council is again considering imposing impact fees to offset the downside of development.

“We’re telling the county to manage efficiently,” Kohala Councilman Pete Hoffmann said. “Thousands of communities in the U.S. have impact fees. This works. Developers like these. It adds certainty to the process.”

Hoffmann’s bill goes before a Council committee tomorrow.

1:07 p.m. Klompus Switches Branches

The 2011 legislative session doesn’t formally begin until Jan. 19, but today marks the real beginning. Newly hired House and Senate staff are crawling all over the place, chatting it up as they stare out over the Rotunda.

One new staffer is Lenny Klompus, former consigliere to Linda Lingle, who will run communications for the House Minority Caucus. Klompus was seen catching the Capitol elevator with Gene Ward.

Expect to see a higher-profile minority caucus, staffers say, with more emphasis on bringing awareness of national and international news to Hawaii (think: APEC). Ward plans to have one-on-ones every week with a member of the media, and all eight House members will actively promote the fact that they represent the interests of tens of thousands of constituents.

11:46 a.m. Ask An Economist

Legislators on the Senate Ways and Means and House Finance committees wanted to know how their decision-making influences the forecasts of the Council on Revenues.

What Paul Brewbaker and Carl Bonham said at today’s budget briefing at the Capitol is that the state can stimulate private-sector investment by funding capitol improvement projects to keep up Hawaii’s infrastructure, enacting some tax credits and rewriting some tax laws.

But raising the transient accommodations tax (which appears not to have negatively impacted tourism arrivals and spending) or delaying tax refunds (which lawmakers and economists agree really don’t make a difference in the state’s revenue stream) are not big fixes for the state’s fiscal woes.

The key takeaway: Hawaii’s economic recovery has one driver — tourism — and it won’t sustain the state over the long term. DBEDT researcher Eugene Tian warned lawmakers that the council’s forecast of growth may, in fact, be too rosy.

11:01 a.m. Hawaii GOP To Look At Finances

The Associated Press reports that leaders of the Hawaii Republican Party have scheduled a special closed-door meeting on Saturday to “discuss financial matters, its headquarters and approval of an audit committee.”

Some local Republicans have criticized the party’s efforts under Chairman Jonah Kaauwai, including spending habits.

10:22 a.m. Schatz Adds to Staff

Brian Schatz today named Dale Chikuami Hahn his senior adviser and Lynn Heirakuji as Fair Share Initiative Director.

Hahn has a background in community and government relations and has worked with NCL America. Heirakuji served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Personnel Oversight at the Pentagon.

The governor put his LG in charge of the state’s Fair Share Initiative, which “seeks to maximize federal funds for Hawaii.”

9:40 a.m. Obama Puts Hawaii on ‘Political Map’

The Washington Post has published an article that casts Hawaii in new light, thanks to Barack Obama.

Much of it is positive — growing tourism numbers, APEC, “Hawaii Five-O” — but not everything. Consider this passage: “Now that Alaska has resolved the Lisa Murkowski-Joe Miller-Sarah Palin soap opera, Hawaii is taking the pole position of political surrealism in the far-flung states.”

Writer Perry Bacon is referring to the insistence by Neil Abercrombie — “an iconic longhair” — to tackle the ‘birther’ controversy.

But, it is a mostly encouraging take. Example:

“Obama’s election and his annual retreat here has given Hawaii some new prominence,” said Robert Perkinson, a history professor at the University of Hawaii who is leading the school’s efforts to land Obama’s presidential library. “And culturally, the demographics of the U.S. are shifting toward an increasing diversity like we have here.”

Brewbaker, Ige, Kidani, Oshiro and Lee

The first Hawaii Legislature hearing of the new year features Paul Brewbaker giving the skinny on the latest Council on Revenues forecast to the chairs of the Senate Ways and Means and House Finance committees.

The joint hearing, the first in a series of money committee hearings over the next few weeks, will begin at 9 a.m. in the State Capitol Auditorium. Bring a sweater (because the auditorium is usually freezing).

Schatz, Kenya and Obama

Over the long weekend, a blog called Give Us Liberty posted this item:

Did you know that current Hawaii Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz who as Chair of the HDP in 2008 authorized Obama’s name be placed on the ballot…actually taught in Kenya and went to school there?…What are the odds?

The post explains that the item on Schatz comes within the context of Neil Abercrombie‘s recent declaration that he would put a stop to the Barack Obama ‘birther’ controversy once and for all.

Mind you, Give Us Liberty is a wildly anti-Obama blog (e.g., “Usurper In the White House,” “Barack Hussein Soetoro,” etc.), so there’s no need to take it at all seriously. But how odd to see the name of Schatz — who did indeed have a short stint in Kenya — now thrown in the mix.

Titcomb, Ramos, Nesbitt, Whitaker and Obama

The president and his family will fly back to D.C. (sunny and 42 degrees) sometime today. Here’s a recap of the highlights of his visit:

Kailua, Marine Base, Hanauma Bay, Mokuleia, Pyramid Rock, Church, Gym, Golf, Swim, Basketball, Tennis, Motorcade, Shave Ice, Alan Wong’s and Titcomb-Ramos-Nesbitt-Whitaker.

Romney, Henry and Palin

Mitt Romney, who is likely to seek the GOP presidential nomination in 2012, was virtually invisible during his family holiday on Maui.

The Los Angeles Times quotes John Henry, chairman of the Maui County Republican Party: “I ask people if they’ve seen Mitt Romney around, and they haven’t.”

Henry, reports the Times, said Romney’s visit was the opposite of Sarah Palin‘s 2009 Maui trip, where she was covered “everywhere she went. I haven’t heard anything like that for Mitt Romney.” That was the trip where Palin was spotted on the beach wearing a “McCain” campaign visor with John McCain‘s name crossed out.


Catch up on our previous coverage:

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