Welcome to Capitol Watch. The Hawaii Legislature is in full swing and Gov. Neil Abercrombie is delivering straight talk that’s not always welcome. Civil Beat is reporting on all of it.

4:43 p.m. Electing the Attorney General?

Senate Bill 1187 proposes asking voters to amend the state Constitution so that the attorney general be elected as a nonpartisan elected official rather than appointed by the governor.

The measure, introduced by nine Democratic senators including Donna Mercado Kim and Brickwood Galuteria, is scheduled to be heard Thursday afternoon by Senate Judiciary and Labor.

4:05 p.m. Abercrombie’s a UH Grad, Too!

The UH System has amended an item on its website listing state elected officials who are UH alumni.

That’s because Neil Abercrombie was left off of an earlier version.

Here’s what the governor’s official website says about Abercrombie’s UH days:

“He came to Hawaii in September 1959, the month after statehood, to be a teaching assistant at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where he earned a Master’s degree in Sociology and later a Ph.D. in American Studies.”

Go ’Bows! Or Warriors!

2:08 p.m. Big Isle Not Crazy About Gov’s Budget

The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reports that the governor’s budget is tough to swallow for some Big Isle residents:

“Kona resident Bob Russell thinks Hawaii is in ‘a state of fiscal emergency’ and ‘our so-called wise leader is continuing our spending addiction.'”

“Russell called Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s controversial budget plan ‘a crying shame, especially when we’re going to tax retirees’ incomes over $37,500 for individuals or $75,000 for couples.’ Frustrated, he asked, ‘What’s next, taking food from our children’s mouths?'”

“Russell wasn’t the only one upset about the budget draft, released last week by the governor’s office. Most of the West Hawaii residents surveyed Sunday were up-in-arms about Abercrombie wanting to raise taxes and add more than 200 positions to the government payroll. Several offered ideas for solving the budget deficit.”

12:03 p.m. Lawmakers May Extend Own Salary Cuts

Recognizing that times are tough and shared sacrifice is called for, House Bill 575 would extend a 5 percent legislative salary decrease to June 30, 2013. It’s currently set to expire this June 30.

The salary cut went into effect July 1, 2009, and applied to the governor, LG, justices and judges, department heads and executive officers, and deputies and assistants. (UPDATED 3/2/2011: The pay cut would apply to legislators too.)

HB 575’s sponsors include Calvin Say and Marcus Oshiro. It will be heard Wednesday in House Finance at noon in Conference Room 308.

10:49 a.m. Oil Prices, Tourism and Time Shares

House Tourism was briefed by visitor industry leaders and tax experts on how revolt in the Arab world will effect Hawaii, and whether Hawaii should increases taxes on hotels and time shares.

Carl Bonham: Local economists are still “cautiously optimistic” in forecasting growth in visitor arrivals and spending, job and income growth and low unemployment, but the wild card is the price of a barrel of oil, which is now around $100. Should prices rise to $140 or so, a “major slowdown” in the U.S. economy and Hawaii’s is likely — probably not this year but likely in 2012. Gas prices and air travel costs will jump, hurting travel and tourism.

Mike McCartney: Tourism is picking up, but keep in mind that Hawaii “took it on the chin” in 2008 and 2009 and is only now beginning to enjoy a recovery in tourism. Travel from China has not yet turned into a potential boon. He advises lawmakers to consider all the implications of raising taxes on hotel rooms and time shares, because Hawaii is competing with much cheaper “warm” destinations like Mexico and the Caribbean.

Lowell Kalapa: Though Hawaii’s transient accommodations tax may seem low when compared to hotel taxes in mainland states, Hawaii’s room rates and taxes like the GET actually put Hawaii in the same category as expensive destinations like New York City and San Francisco. A room in Honolulu, for example, averages $175 to $200 compared with a room at a hotel near Disneyland costs between $50 and $90 a night.

Mufi Hannemann: One of the few growth areas in Hawaii tourism is time shares, so raising the TAT rate on those units will be “a burden.” And, though Waikiki is the state’s “economic engine,” any discussion between tourism stakeholders and government — an idea that lawmakers were considering — should include the neighbor islands as well.

UH Grads in Government

The University of Hawaii has posted on its webpage a list of state elected officials who are UH alumni.

No surprise, the list includes a lot of familiar names, including Hawaii’s entire congressional delegation.

It also lists 15 of the 25 state Senators, including Shan Tsutsui, and 33 of the 51 House representatives, including Calvin Say.

UH leaders must still come to the Legislature every session to beg for their budget, just like everyone else.

Inouye, Akaka and 2012

Punch in the words “Inouye” and “Akaka” and the year “2012” into Google and you’ll get more than 12,000 results.

That’s thanks in part to last week’s “Island Insights” on PBS Hawaii, which featured Dan Inouye appearing to leave Dan Akaka out in the cold should the latter senator seek re-election next year. Inouye said — review the episode here — he didn’t have the time or money to support his colleague.

About a half-dozen or so of the most popular Goggle hits link to conservative sites that used the headline “Inouye dumps Akaka,” as Inouye even went so far as to name possible successors for Akaka — most of them the usual suspects (sans any Republicans, of course).

Akaka, for the record, has said he is running again. But, for the record, five of his colleagues have already declared they are not.

Maui, Big Isle Budget Woes

The state’s fiscal situation has dominated the headlines, but other local governments are struggling, too.

The Maui News reports that Mayor Alan Arakawa is saying the county government “no longer has the money to be all things to all people”:

“With employee benefits a huge part of county costs, Arakawa outlined plans to reduce the county work force through attrition, leaving positions vacant after employees leave or retire.”

“‘These are tough decisions to make, but these are tough times and they have to be made,'” he said.

Arakawa also said, however, he wants to end county furlough days beginning in April, break ground on a big park in Central Maui and start curbside recycling.

Meanwhile, on the Big Island tomorrow, Mayor Billy Kenoi will unveil his budget.

The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reports that the mayor’s strategy “for closing a $40-million-plus budget gap remains a mystery to County Council members bracing for possible tax increases, service cuts and worker layoffs.

House Finance Soldiers On

Marcus Oshiro‘s committee on House Finance didn’t wrap up business last week until the early part of Saturday, and they have more work waiting for them today.

A “first decking” deadline looms Friday, meaning getting bills into final form before the full House can vote.

The committee, which meets in Conference Room 308, has agendas for 10 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 11 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 1:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m., 3:30 p.m., 5 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.

Among the many dozens of bills under consideration are regarding the issuing of special purpose revenue bonds, EIS’s, solid waste, biofuels, energy transmission cables, Medicaid, taxes, sick leave, child support, education, employee retirement and benefits, workers’ compensation, family leave, mortgage foreclosures, public safety and collective bargaining.

Tourism, Money and the Economy

House Tourism has scheduled at 9:30 a.m. in Conference Room 309 an informational briefing titled “The Economy and Tourism, and Anything That’s Money.”

The primary focus is tourism funding and the transient accommodations tax, and those scheduled to present are Carl Bonham, Lowell Kalapa and Mike McCartney.**

Bills: Counting Kanaka Maoli

Senate Ways and Means will hear at 10 a.m. in Conference Room 211 Senate Bill 1, which establishes a nine-member commission to prepare and maintain a roll of Native Hawaiians.

The roll would be used should the Akaka bill ever become law and a governing entity established.


Catch up on our previous week’s coverage:

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