Welcome to Capitol Watch. The Hawaii Legislature has just eight days to go, and all the talk is about balancing the budget.

5:11 p.m. Budget Hearings on Cable TV

Conference committee hearings at the Legislature are rarely televised (and, trust us, you haven’t missed much), but all the attention on the state budget deficit has led to Senate WAM and House FIN allowing Capitol TV to broadcast its hearing live beginning at 7 p.m.

On Oahu the joint meeting will be on Olelo channel 54.

For the Neighbor Islands, consult the resources listed below for Capitol TV broadcast and rebroadcast information:

4:26 p.m. Human Trafficking Bill Sails Through

Hawaii may well be on its way to finally putting a human trafficking statute on the books.

House Bill 141, which would criminalize labor trafficking, passed out of conference committee this afternoon.

It is headed back to the House for a third and final reading and may well be on its way to the governor’s desk.

Hawaii remains one of four states that does not have a human trafficking bill. Yet it sure has its share of human trafficking problems, what with the largest human trafficking case in U.S. history filed by federal prosecutors in Honolulu last year.

—Sara Lin

4:10 p.m. Oshiro Opines on Budget Talks

Marcus Oshiro told reporters at the Capitol that the HGEA settlement calling for a 5 percent cut in salaries “is short of the governor’s own financial plan, what he proposed to us early on. So it means several things: We need to look back deeper into the budget — cuts, adjustments, restrictions, etc., and/or also other revenue measures.”

Oshiro said the negotiations between the House and Senate over the budget await Senate action on a number of those revenue measures:

“What they intend to do with a bill to tax folks with high pension income, what they plan to do with the cap on itemized deductions for high-income earners, deferring for several years the doubling of the tax deduction, and looking at the HTA money, also the TAT for the counties, whether or not they can impose a small tax upon a time share, look at the bill to fund and build the joint-use facility at the airport for the rent-a-car companies, looking at the liquor tax measure — all these other miscellaneous revenue sources.”

Oshiro continued: “It’s going to be tight right now because the assumption is that (the state) would have talked more about payroll savings — much more than the 5 percent. … So we need to make adjustments again, either in revenue and/or in cuts to the budget.”

Still, Oshiro said he believed the budget talks can be settled this week.

“We are going to be driving to do that, but again, it really is up to the Senate what the intend to do with the revenue bills,” he said. “If they don’t intend to move any of those revenue bills out, we’ll make the adjustment in the budget. It’s as simple as that.”

3:30 p.m. Kenoi Won’t Raise Property Taxes

The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reports that Big Island Mayor Billy Kenoi has vowed not to raise property taxes for at least one year.

That’s because Hawaii County real property valuations came in “about 4 percent less than last year — good news for County Council members fearing losses as high as 10 percent.”

The paper adds:

Kenoi noted this is the third consecutive year of declining property values, and said he’s been steadily reducing the size and cost of government to accommodate the tax losses.

“We anticipated this shortfall,” Kenoi said. “Our goal was, is and continues to be no tax increases.”

1:50 p.m. Gov Grateful for HGEA Vote

Neil Abercrombie was asked by reporters today at the Capitol about the salary complaints coming nurses who refused to ratify the HGEA contract last night.

Here’s what he had to say:

“Most everybody feels that they could always be doing better or should be doing better than possibly they are, but that’s what collective bargaining is all about. In the end you take a vote, just like you do in elections of any kind. And the majority obviously felt that not only did we make progress in terms of coming to an agreement, but it was one that they could abide. Both the HGEA and others understand that we are in a very, very severe fiscal crisis and that everybody has to pull together.

And I regret that some people don’t feel that enough has been done as far as they’re concerned, but obviously the majority has decided we are all in this together and that we are going to come through it together. And I am very, very grateful to those that understood that and acted accordingly.

The governor’s office also released this statement on the contract agreement:

“Without accusations and confrontation, the state and six of the seven bargaining units of the Hawaii Government Employees Association have come to an agreement that brings an end to Furlough Fridays and produces the savings needed to help balance the budget in our financial plan.

“HGEA members have families and pay taxes like the rest of us. Over the years, they have carried a heavy burden in increasingly difficult work conditions. But HGEA members want to move Hawaii forward as we all do. Throughout Hawaii, people are ready to follow their example — to attack our problems instead of attacking each other.

11 a.m. Djou Rails on Gas Prices

Charles Djou — remember him? — has penned an opinion piece in response to Hawaii’s record-high gas prices and the possibility that Honolulu may increase its gas tax.

“With Hawaii now experiencing the highest gasoline prices in history, it is baffling that the politicians in the City government are actually contemplating an increase in the gasoline tax,” argues Djou.

The piece ends with this thought:

Hawaii deserves a healthy competition of ideas and we don’t deserve a government that looks at families as bottom-less pits of money to take from every time there is a fiscal hiccup. We deserve a dynamic two-party democracy in our state and local elected officials willing to stand up for taxpayers. Until then I am afraid that all of us will just have to sit and take things like a gasoline tax increase in the middle of a recession amidst record high gasoline prices.

The article concludes with an “aloha” and a logo that reads “Charles Djou Congress.” Is Djou planning another run for office?

9:37 a.m. Abercrombie Appointee Withdrawals Climbs to 19

With the withdrawal yesterday of the appointments of Patrick Naughton and Sandra Scarr to the UH Board of Regents, the total number of withdrawn Neil Abercrombie appointees rises to 19.

As tough a blow as it was for the governor — Sente Education, after all, rejected Naughton and Scarr by 6-0 votes — less than 8 percent of the governor’s more than 260 appointees whose names were sent to the state Senate have been withdrawn.

8:55 a.m. Gov: ‘We Have the Power’

The governor’s latest weekly message concerns clean energy.

Some highlights:

Gas prices are higher than ever — with people worrying whether they can afford their commute to work or dropping off their kids at school.

Do we want to stand still and continue to be victims of forces outside our control? I don’t.

I’d rather stand with the kids who rallied at the Capitol this week for clean energy, saying “We have the power.”

(Of note: The Blue Planet Foundation rally last week that the governor is referring to was in support of a bill that has yet to receive a conference committee hearing, as Civil Beat reports.)

The governor also called for legislative passage an undersea cable “to advance our clean energy policies,” expanding the Public Utilities Commission “to streamline processes,” improving energy efficiency in state buildings and providing “proper funding” for the State Energy Office “so it can manage the state’s clean energy portfolio.”

8:30 a.m. Conference Committee: Budget, Voting, Transparency

They kinda go together, no?

This afternoon, conferees will take up instant runoff voting — which the Honolulu City Council officially opposes — campaign spending reform, online voting registration and open public meetings.

And House and Senate conferees on the state budget will reconvene tonight to work on their differences. No word yet as to whether the budget meeting will be televised, but click here for a broadcast schedule.

Japan Consul General to Address Legislature

Yoshihiko Kamo, the Consul General of Japan in Honolulu, will address a special joint session of the state House and Senate at noon in House chambers. The governor will attend.

Kamo will give remarks on the aftermath of the March 11 Japan earthquake and tsunami, “including an update on how the devastation continues to impact the lives of those across Japan,” according to a press release.

The House concurrent resolution requesting Kamo’s address notes that “the people of Hawaii and Japan have deep and cordial ties that stretch across the Pacific to reinforce friendship and support, especially during such difficult times.”

Conference Committee: Pension Tax, TAT

House and Senate conferees are scheduled to Senate Bill 570 and House Bill 1092 on, respectively, taxing pension incomes and making changes to eliminating some income tax deductions.

House and Senate conferees are also scheduled to discuss Senate Bill 1186, which temporarily levies the transient accommodations tax on on some furnished rooms, raises the rate on resort time shares and temporarily limits TAT distribution to the counties.

Briefing: Medicaid

The Human Services in the state House and Senate are scheduled to hold a joint informational briefing on potential changes to Medicaid.

The Department of Human Services will discuss the changes to help “health providers, consumer advocate groups and others to have an opportunity to discuss what such proposed changes may have on the public,” according to the briefing notice.


Catch up on previous coverage:

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