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Honolulu Rail Funding Bill Passes Full Senate, 16-9

Wayne Yoshioka

The State Senate chamber was emotionally-charged today as lawmakers voted on the bill to fund the Honolulu Rail Transit project.  HPR’s Wayne Yoshioka reports.

Senate Bill 4, if signed into law, would provide 2.4 billion dollars for the Honolulu Rail Transit Project.  The measure would extend the General Excise Tax, raise the hotel room tax statewide, cut administrative funding and require a state audit.  Former Ways and Means Committee chair, Jill Tokuda, who was ousted last session, supported the bill.

“Given what happened at the end of session, some may be surprised I’m supporting this bill.  My primary concern then and now, is ensuring that it is not a blank check on the backs of our taxpayers, continuing to further burden our residents for decades and that it holds the city accountable.”

Credit Wayne Yoshioka
Big Island Senator, Josh Green, opposed the rail funding measure.

Big Island Senator, Josh Green, is an emergency room doctor.  He opposed spending 2.4 billion dollars on rail at the cost of other life-saving measures.

“Bills die silently most of the time.  Major policies die quietly.  And then we come here and have the audacity to say in 3 days that we can get this rail thing going and it’s gonna be fine.  And it’s not going to curtail those objectives.  That is an abomination to say that and it is not true.”

East O’ahu Senator, Laura Thielen, also spoke out against passing a funding bill without changes or discussion.

“This session is 5 days long.  To pass a bill that is for over $2 billion.  Give me a break!  We’re raising the TAT statewide and we haven’t had a single hearing on the neighbor island.”

Credit Wayne Yoshioka
Senate Ways and Means Committee chair, Donovan Dela Cruz, converses with colleague, Senator Gil Keith-Agaran.

But, on a final roll call vote,16 senators voted to pass the bill, 9 opposed.   Senate President Ron Kouchi.

“I just saw great passion from everyone, no matter what side of the issue they were on and it makes Democracy so great that you can stand up and not worry about really expressing a different opinion from your colleague.”

Meanwhile, the House Transportation and Finance Committees conducted their public hearing on the Senate Bill 4 Wednesday afternoon.  But House Speaker Emeritus, Joe Souki, says the bill will almost certainly pass.

“It’s a done deal in favor of the bill, which includes the statewide tax on TAT.  So, I see the opposition beginning to dwindle as it moves on.  I believe there’s no financial harm to the counties.  It’s to the hotels.”

House Speaker Scott Saiki agrees.

“So far on the House side, I’m fairly confident that we will have the support necessary to pass the rail bill.  Members have approached this, keeping in mind the larger interest that are at stake for the entire State of Hawai’i.”

A final vote in both Senate and House is expected Friday.  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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