Welcome to Capitol Watch. We’re well past the halfway point at the Hawaii Legislature and hundreds of bills are still moving. Meanwhile the state’s budget shortfall is getting worse. Civil Beat is reporting on all of it.

6:34 p.m. Gov’s Circuit Court Judge Nominee Withdraws His Name

Joe Wildman, Gov. Neil Abercrombie‘s nominee to fill an empty circuit court judgeship has withdrawn his name.

The governor’s office released the following statement from Wildman and the governor:

“I’m grateful for Governor Abercrombie giving me the opportunity to serve,” Mr. Wildman said. “However, because of an unresolved situation with my law firm, I have decided to withdraw my nomination to prevent any distraction for the Abercrombie Administration and disruption for my family.”

Governor Abercrombie accepted Mr. Wildman’s request and will make a new appointment for Circuit Court judge shortly.

“I’m sorry that Joe won’t be serving the people of Hawai’i as Judge of the Circuit Court,” Governor Abercrombie said. “There are other very qualified individuals recommended by the Judicial Selection Commission, and I will be making a selection soon.”

Of course, we don’t know who else Abercrombie might appoint. Unlike his predecessor — and the chief justice of the Hawaii Supreme Court — Abercrombie has kept secret the list of nominees he’s given from the Judicial Selection Commission.

—Sara Lin

4:38 p.m. Gov Rules Out GET Hike … For Now

The Associated Press reports that Neil Abercrombie now “strongly opposes” an increase in Hawaii’s general excise tax because there are better options to raise money.

The governor’s position on the GET has evolved in recent months as the state’s budget deficit has climbed.

But today AP said Abercrombie “encouraged lawmakers to revisit proposals to tax pensions and eliminate exemptions to the general excise tax.”

The governor did leave himself some wiggle room:

“Abercrombie stopped short of saying he would veto an increase to the general excise tax as the state faces a $1.3 billion projected budget deficit over the next two years.”

3:05 p.m. Humane Society Honors Akaka

The Humane Society of the United States and its legislative fund today recognizes Dan Akaka for Animal Welfare Leadership in 2010.

Akaka was singled out for legislation “to stop Class B dealers from selling to research labs ‘random-source’ dogs and cats (who may be stolen pets), and to require that slaughter facilities humanely euthanize animals too sick and injured to walk,” according to a press release.

A spokesman for the Humane Society said Akaka has been awarded several times over the years for his efforts on behalf of animal protections.

2:11 p.m. Big Isle Council May Spend $1M to Lure Tourists

West Hawaii Today reports that Hawaii County Council Chairman Dominic Yagong wants the county to spend $1 million to bring mainland tourists to the Big Island in light of the decline in Japanese visitors.

The paper says:

“I’m not trying to play Santa Claus here, but I’m looking to areas of the budget where we can shift to your department,” Yagong told Research and Development Director Randy Kurohara during a budget briefing Tuesday.

Council members turned their focus to raising money rather than just cutting budgets during the second day of departmental budget briefings that are set to conclude today. The council won’t start amending the $366.1 million budget proposed by Mayor Billy Kenoi until after he submits his final budget May 5.

“We have to rejuvenate the economy. Obviously, that’s got to be part of the picture here,” Yagong said.

1:10 p.m. Barrel Tax Moves to Senate Floor

Senate Ways and Means moved a lot of bills a during a rapid-fire, hour-long decision-making meeting this morning — some of them tweaked to ensure they’ll come back in conference with the House in mid-April.

Among those measures was House Bill 1019, which would shift some $15 million in annual barrel tax revenues from the general fund to energy and food sustainability special funds.

David Ige and his colleagues passed the bill out to the full Senate, but only after changing the bill in two key ways.

First, the effective date was defected to July 2117.

More importantly, the fund amounts were blanked out, meaning the Legislature could nix the idea altogether or even move money the other direction — from the special sustainability funds to the general fund — if it’s needed to fix the billion-dollar-plus budget shortfall.

That means the bill is technically alive, but may ultimately resemble something far different from the original proposal.

Ige said after the meeting that lawmakers will first need to see what the full budget looks like and then prioritize which programs get funding and which don’t.

Michael Levine

12:05 p.m. UPDATE: Gov Picks BOE

Kim Gennaula! Keith Amemiya!

Read all about it here.

9:31 a.m. Democrats on Top in New Senate Poll

The Daily Kos, a left-of-center website, has posted fresh polling data on hypothetical match-ups to replace Dan Akaka in the U.S. Senate in 2012.

The Public Policy Polling for Daily Kos/SEIU was conducted among Hawaii voters from March 24 through March 27. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.3 percent:

Ed Case: 52 percent
Linda Lingle: 35 percent
Undecided: 12 percent

Colleen Hanabusa: 51 percent
Linda Lingle: 40 percent
Undecided: 9 percent

Mufi Hannemann: 47 percent
Linda Lingle: 40 percent
Undecided: 14

Mazie Hirono: 52
Linda Lingle: 40
Undecided: 9

Ed Case: 50
Duke Aiona: 35
Undecided: 15

Colleen Hanabusa: 48
Duke Aiona: 43
Undecided: 9

Mufi Hannemann: 42
Duke Aiona: 42
Undecided: 16

Mazie Hirono: 49
Duke Aiona: 42
Undecided: 10

Ed Case: 53
Charles Djou: 35
Undecided: 12

Colleen Hanabusa: 50
Charles Djou: 40
Undecided: 10

Mufi Hannemann: 46
Charles Djou: 40
Undecided: 14

Mazie Hirono: 51
Charles Djou: 40
Undecided: 9

The Daily Kos suggests that Lingle “can’t crack 40 percent against any Democrat, even the least popular among them … if Hawaii Republicans want to take on a hopeless suicide mission, they’re welcome to do so.”

It also cautions that Case might not be as strong as the polling suggests: “But while these numbers might offer Case an ‘electability’ argument, all Dems are clearly capable of winning—and what’s more, Case would have to make it out of a primary first.”

Here is each Democrat’s “favorables” among members of their own party:

Hirono: 72-16
Hanabusa: 65-19
Case: 50-30
Hannemann: 44-44

The Daily Kos observes: “That’s going to be tough for Case to pull off (and Hannemann, too — his negative primary against Abercrombie last year seems to be hurting him). But Hirono and Hanabusa should talk, though, and figure out which of them ought to run, because in a multi-way race, Case could definitely sneak through, and we definitely do not want that.”

Abercrombie to Announce BOE Picks

At a 10:30 a.m. press conference in the ceremonial room on the Capitol’s fifth floor, Neil Abercrombie will reveal his selection of eight people to serve on the state Board of Education.

They will join banker Don Horner, whom the governor already named.

Voters last year gave the governor the power to appoint a school board, which prescribes a 10-member board including one nonvoting student member.

Senate Attendance Record

Last week Capitol Watch wrote about the floor session attendance of state House lawmakers — read it here.

Unlike the House, the state Senate does not post its attendance online. But the Senate Clerk and Senate Communications helped us out.

Through March 24 — the 37th day of the 60-day session — freshman Ron Kouchi of Kauai missed the most days, seven. Four of those days the senator was in Washington, D.C., for a national conference of legislators; the other three days involved government meetings on the Garden Isle.

Oahu lawmakers Les Ihara and Brian Taniguchi missed five days each, some because of illness.

Maui lawmakers Kalani English and Oahu’s Mike Gabbard were absent three days as well — one day for the rail groundbreaking and another (two for English) because of the tsunami.

Oahu’s Maile Shimabukuro and Maui’s Shan Tsutsui also missed three days, including one each (respectively) because of the tsunami and groundbreaking. Oahu’s Donovan Dela Cruz also skipped three days.

These senators had perfect attendance: Roz Baker, Suzanne Chun Oakland, Josh Green, Gil Kahele, Michelle Kidani, Pohai Ryan, Sam Slom, Malama Solomon, Jill Tokuda and Glenn Wakai.

Bills: Slaughterhouse, Homeless

It’s still alive — Senate Bill 249, which would allow the state to spend $1.6 million to buy and fix up a slaughterhouse at Campbell Industrial Park.

The Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation supports the bill, while the Agriculture Department and Hawaii Cattlemen’s Council supported the intent of the measure.

But Animal Rights Hawaii and some concerned individuals oppose it.

House Finance is scheduled to hear the measure.

The same hearing includes several measures intended to alleviate homelessness, including bills that would fund safe haven shelters and an affordable housing program.

Ag Awareness Day

From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., House and Senate Agriculture Committees and the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation present “Agriculture Awareness Day” on the fourth floor lanai at the State Capitol.

The event features exhibits by Hawaii’s agriculture industry, including local farmers and producers of local products — fruits and vegetables, eggs and dairy, livestock, flowers, coffee — from the four major islands.

Local produce, products and samples of island cuisine will be available for purchase, with all proceeds going to the Oahu Food Bank and Food Basket Inc. Bring your own shopping bags.

Catch up on previous coverage:

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