Welcome to Capitol Watch. The Hawaii Legislature has less than three weeks to go, and balancing the budget remains issue No. 1.

5:06 p.m. Inouye, Money and the East-West Center

A Washington Post political blog reports that, “even in an era of budget cuts,” some government programs won’t die.

They include Honolulu’s East-West Center, thanks to the power of Dan Inouye.

The Post blogs:

The center runs exchange programs for U.S. and Asian journalists and young professionals, conducts research and offers scholarships to study at the University of Hawaii. For 2010, President Obama’s budget proposed reducing its federal funding from $21 million to $12 million, arguing that this would encourage the center to seek other sources for money.

That went nowhere.

The center has a powerful ally in Congress: Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii), the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Instead of shrinking by millions, the center’s subsidy went up by $2 million.

This year, the Republican-controlled House tried again. In February, it voted to strip $10.7 million, half the center’s budget.

Once again, the center mainly escaped the ax. After the House and Senate worked out a final deal, its budget had fallen by about $2 million — basically losing the money it had picked up a year earlier. …

A spokesman for Inouye said only that the senator “has been a strong supporter of the East-West Center since its inception.”

Inouye told Civil Beat about his support for the EWC just this week.

3:44 p.m. Hannemann Pens MidWeek Column

Mufi Hannemann has just tweeted about his weekly column in MidWeek, which debuts this week.

Hannemann, president of the Hawaii Hotel and Lodging Association, has been a visible presence in recent months, raising speculation that he is planning to run for office soon, namely for the U.S. Senate.

All we know for certain is that Hannemann has been on a tweeting tear of late.

Just yesterday, @MufiHannemann sent out tweets saying he was looking forward to the latest episode of the “Glee” series on Fox, and how folks should be sure to catch “the Laughing Samoans at BYUH in Laie tonight! Ete & Tofiga @lafingsa will make you laugh & howl!”

1:38 p.m. Conference Committee on Budget Continues

House Finance and Senate Ways and Means will reconvene their conference committee tonight over House Bill 200 — aka the state budget.

The members held their initial meeting last night, where the setup in Conference Room 309 was different this time around.

Committee members sat in what Marcus Oshiro called “almost like a roundtable,” with Oshiro and David Ige seated side by side and the 26 other conferees gathered around a long rectangle table.

Oshiro said the configuration reflects the “new direction and new collaboration we are seeing between the House and Senate in this endeavor to come up with a balanced budget” and “have direct access to each other.”

The group hopes to wrap up the conference and agree on a two-year state budget by next Tuesday.

Nanea Kalani

11:33 a.m. More Doubts About Deficit Panel

Political bloggers at The Washington Post are raising the same doubts other D.C. politicos have raised about just how successful the president’s deficit reduction panel will actually be.

The bloggers blog:

Could President Obama’s deficit reduction talks be doomed even before they start?

As part of his new deficit reduction agenda, President Obama last week called for a 16-person group made up of members of Congress to reach a long-term agreement on budget deficit.

But Obama asked Congress to name eight members from each party. Instead, the GOP tapped two members, the Democrats four. And the members themselves are not known for their bipartisanship. …

The Democratic appointees are no more predisposed to compromise. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), a vocal opponent of Social Security reforms, has appointed Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), who has proven reluctant to cut spending, and Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who was the only senator from either party on Obama’s deficit commission to vote against the panel’s final recommendations.

The talks, to be led by Joe Biden, will commence Many 5 at Blair House. (No relation.)

10:28 a.m. Slow Fundraising for Hirono, Hanabusa

The Daily Kos reports that two potential U.S. Senate candidates from Hawaii are slow out of the gate in raising money.

David Nir blogs:

Very slow fundraising quarters from Reps. Mazie Hirono and Colleen Hanabusa, despite Dan Akaka‘s retirement announcement on March 2. Hirono raised around $100K and has $291K on hand, while Hanabusa took in a mere $33K and has only $72K in the bank.

More interestingly, despite Ed Case‘s attempts at rapprochement, Sen. Dan Inouye still has hard feelings about Case’s primary challenge to Akaka in 2006 — and he didn’t hesitate to say so in a recent interview. He all but said that Case lied to his face when he asked him lo those many years ago if he’d run against Akaka, and then added a few remarks that made it sounds like Case had definitely not succeeded in making amends.

So unless Inouye is playing some weirdly deep game here, then it looks like my fears that he’d subtly back Case seem unfounded. Good.

Nir is no fan of Case’s, if you couldn’t tell.

9:14 a.m. More Birther News

If you haven’t checked it out yet, read and view Neil Abercrombie‘s strong response to Donald Trump and the lingering doubts over Barack Obama’s birth origins. It’s gone viral.

In related news, Michele Bachmann now says she takes the president “at his word” — just days after she had pressed Obama to “answer some questions” regarding his birthplace.

Bachmann seems to be heeding the concerns of many Republicans that the birhter issue may hurt the party rather than help it in 2012.

And John McCain welcomed the vetoing this week of a controversial “birther” bill in his home state of Arizona. The legislation would have required presidential candidates to prove their citizenship to get on the ballot. McCain tweeted “it was the right decision.”

That should settle things once and for all, right? Probably not.

Consider the latest blather from BirtherReport.com, which responded to Abercrombie’s latest statements on Obama’s birth:

Hawaii governor Neil Abercommie is a bigger liar than Obama AKA Soetoro AKA Soebarkah. … Funny how all Abercrombie’s investigators could find was a hand-written notation on file at the DOH, and no Obama records at any of the hospitals in Hawaii. How many more lies before action is taken!?

Gov Honors Senate for Going Green

Neil Abercrombie will recognize the Hawaii State Senate at 1 p.m. in Executive Chambers for its efforts in the Hawaii Green Government Challenge.

In 2008, the Senate launched a paperless initiative “to enhance public access to the legislative process by making sure more documents are available in electronic format and to reduce paper waste generated by the Senate,” according to a press release.

The initiative has reduced Senate paper usage by 80 percent since the program was put in place, and over the past three years it has saved half a million dollars in purchasing paper and copy machine expenses.

The Hawaii Green Government Challenge, administered by DBEDT’s State Energy Office, works with government agencies on developing smart energy and resource-efficient operations.

House GOP’s Balanced Budget Summit

Members of the minority party in the state House will gather from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the Capitol Auditorium for a Balanced Budget Summit.

The Republicans are holding the summit in conjunction with representatives from the American Legislative Exchange Council — “limited government, free markets, federalism” — based in Washington, D.C.

Resolution: Housing First

House Housing (yep, House Housing; it’s a committee) is scheduled to hear a resolution encouraging “further implementation” of Housing First programs and services to “combat homelessness.”

Housing First programs are recent national initiatives in human service programs and social policy based on the premise that the best way to alleviate homelessness is to get people in affordable housing. The challenge in a place like Hawaii is where to build such facilities.

The “reso” reads in part:

WHEREAS, persons experiencing chronic homelessness comprise over twenty-six percent of the homeless population in Hawaii, but require more than fifty percent of the resources allocated to combat homelessness;

WHEREAS, hospital and emergency room visits, police interventions, and periods of incarceration for the chronically homeless who suffer from physical and mental disabilities may cost Hawaii between $35,000 and $150,000 per person each year;

WHEREAS, research studies across the country indicate that eighty-five percent of people experiencing chronic homelessness who move into permanent supportive housing stabilize and maintain that housing.

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