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Legislative Update on Honolulu Rail Transit Funding


The state legislature is considering a bill to continue funding for Honolulu’s Rail Transit project.  HPR’s Wayne Yoshioka has this update from lawmakers.    

The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation – HART – doesn’t have the funding to build the last City Center segment of the rail transit project from Middle Street to Ala Moana Center.   That 4-mile stretch with 8 stations will be through the most densely populated area on the rail line.   Senate Ways and Means Committee chair, Jill Tokuda, says Senate Bill 1183 would take the state’s 10 percent administrative share from the GET surcharge and return it to the city.

“We told them that they need to take a look at every possible means to take the dollars that we are providing them with - which is that return of the 10 percent – which would give them all of the resources necessary to have the project costs, less the contingencies.  And I believe contingencies are just that: contingencies.”

The state’s 10 percent to HART would provide 300 million dollars before the GET surcharge expires in 2027.   But, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell has requested the legislature extend the GET surcharge indefinitely and repeated that request earlier this month.

“I do want to build rail and be fair and reduce the burden on the taxpayers on this island through the GET tax extension.  Because one-third is paid by non-residents: visitors, military and others.  I want to export  it to those who come to celebrate and then leave.”

The Mayor also says other financing options are not available and not allowed by law.

“The ordinance says you can only use the GET, from the surcharge, and the full-funding grant agreement money, 1.55 billion.  That ordinance was passed in 2007.  In order to use real property taxes, I would have to go to the Honolulu City Council; the Honolulu City Council would have to pass a law changing that ordinance and a second bill would have to be submitted proposing to use property taxes to pay for rail.”

But, Senator Tokuda says granting a permanent GET surcharge to the city is irresponsible and the legislature is providing an option.

“In the draft that we passed was a requirement that they overturn that self-imposed ordinance and make available all the resources that the city has available to them.”

Senate Bill 1183 is now before the House.  Representative Sylvia Luke is chair of the House Finance Committee.

“You know the mayor is saying, “Let’s just round it up to 10 billion dollars.”  Two years ago it was 6.8 billion dollars.  I think part of that includes the discussion about what is the current management, accountability and what does this construction and design of rail.  ‘Cause why is the number so different from just two years ago.”

However, Luke says, the bill doesn’t include modifying the transit route or management oversight because it relates to taxation and funding only.  The Federal Transit Administration has also set an April 30th deadline for the city to submit a recovery plan but Luke says it does not involve lawmakers.

“We have our own legislative deadline which is beginning of May so we’re gonna follow our own deadline. “

Senate Ways and Means chair, Tokuda.

“While there is an April deadline, I think the main thing with something like funding for rail is that it gets a thorough and proper public vetting because you don’t want the public to feel like this was forced on them.”

HART is currently overseeing contracts to complete the first 16 miles of elevated guide-way from East Kapolei to Middle Street; 13 stations; a maintenance yard; and the delivery of 40 rail-cars.   Wayne Yoshioka, HPR News.

Wayne Yoshioka
Wayne Yoshioka is an award-winning journalist who has worked in television, print and radio in Hawaiʻi. He also has been on both sides of politics as a state departmental appointee and political/government reporter. He covered Hurricane Iwa (1982) as a TV reporter; was the State Department of Defense/Civil Defense spokesperson for Hurricane Iniki (1992); and, commanded a public affairs detachment in Afghanistan (2006). He has a master's degree in Communication from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and is a decorated combat veteran (Legion of Merit, Bronze Star and 22 other commendation/service medals). He resides in Honolulu.
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