Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell today signed Bill 23 (2015), clearing the way for the contentious 0.5 percent general excise tax surcharge to be extended through 2027.
The City Council approved the bill 7-2 Wednesday after months of deliberating and hand-wringing. The extention is expected to bring in between $1.2 billion and $1.8 billion.
Supporters said the additional five years beyond the 2022 expiration previously approved was needed to meet rising costs caused by various delays and overruns of a project that has had its estimated price tag rise to $6.57 billion from $5.26 billion in about a year.
“Rail is absolutely worth fighting for in my mind,” Caldwell said, describing the project as an investment in the future.
The extention was criticized by opponents, who said it gives the Honolulu Authority for Rail Transportation a blank check to continue runaway spending at the expense of taxpayers.
HART is allowed to use up to $1.1 billion from the extended period to pay for the 20-mile, 21-stop line from East Kapolei to Ala Moana Center, but the bill lets the project tap further from the funding for contingency. The extended surcharge period is expected to bring in between $1.2 bilion and $1.8 billion, depending on economic factors.
The measure also includes additional reporting requirements on the financial and management steps by HART to the Council.
The state Legislature gave the OK for the extension last spring, and the Council subsequently held eight full Council committee hearings before Wednesday’s final approval.