State Lawmakers are advancing the Honolulu rail transit funding measure this week during a special legislative session. But, as HPR’s Wayne Yoshioka reports, there are deep divisions in the Senate Chamber.
A State Senate majority advanced Senate Bill 4, the rail funding measure, for the second of 3 required votes by all members Wednesday morning. Senator Russell Ruderman, who represents Puna and Ka’u on the Big Island, called for a by-name, roll-call vote that yielded a majority of 17. He says neighbor island taxpayers should not have to pay for Honolulu’s rail project.
“Throwing more money at a mismanaged project is rarely a good idea. You should fix what’s wrong, first, then throw money at it. I also have an objection into the process where there was never – at least on the Senate side – that we never had a public hearing about TAT for rail. This bill was drafted behind closed doors with no public input from my point of view.”
Ruderman was one of 7 senators in the 25-member body who opposed advancing the bill. Senator Breene Harimoto has been a staunch supporter of the rail project from the beginning. He says his views on rail have not changed but the conversation among his colleagues has.
“The conversation has changed from a discussion of rail to this thing about neighbor islands versus O’ahu. And I think that that’s a diversion tactic and now, needlessly, we’ve created a bill that causes divisiveness and just animosity. We don’t need to go there. We’re one state and I think this is bad policy.”
Harimoto’s biggest concern is the possibility of a legal challenge to the state’s intervention in county’s rail project. Senator Laura Thielen represents Kailua, Waimanalo and Hawai’i Kai-Portlock. She supports mass transportation options on O’ahu but is concerned about the escalating cost for rail.
“So now that the rail price tag has more than doubled. Because, remember, the original $3-billion figure was based on getting all the way to Manoa, which would give you the most traffic relief. Now it’s only going to Ala Moana. That’s beyond what we can afford given all the other needs and the cost of living impacts on our lowest income residents. So we need to take a look at alternative mass transit options from Middle Street forward.”
Cost is also a major concern for Senator Josh Green who represents Kona and Ka’u on the Big Island. He says rail will take resources away from other priority issues.
“When you take a large program and you commit $10 billion to it over time, that makes it very difficult to focus on other priorities. A billion dollars is necessary to fix all of our hospitals, we have a billion dollars of backlog on our schools, we treat less than 5 percent of the people that need treatment for drug addiction. So, from a policy standpoint, very difficult to look at this as a top priority for the entire state.”
The 17-to-7margin in the Senate in favor of passing the rail funding bill “as is,” is not expected to change when all members vote Wednesday morning. Wayne Yoshioka, HPR News.