Legislature is last resort for cash-poor rail project
The Honolulu transit melodrama moved from reality show to just-hard-cash reality this week as the Federal Transit Administration said “No” to Honolulu officials’ repeatedrequests for more money or more time.
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The Honolulu transit melodrama moved from reality show to just-hard-cash reality this week as the Federal Transit Administration said “No” to Honolulu officials’ repeated requests for more money or more time.
The feds have a $1.55 billion stake in the project, already estimated to be $1.5 billion over budget.
The over-budget question is probably immaterial because for Mayor Kirk Caldwell, whose political future is linked to the project, the real problem is that the city does not have enough money to finish it. It is not a question of having a budget out of whack; the question to be answered is, what do you do when you have just run out of money?
As Caldwell told the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation in June: “$6.8 billion, maybe $7 (billion) at the high end, where does it get us? I think most people agree that it gets us to Middle Street with some money left over.”
At the just-concluded, two-day San Francisco conference between city and HART officials, the FTA said that stopping at Middle Street was unacceptable, and, according to Council Chairman Ernie Martin, “would risk all of the $1.55 billion owed the city.”
Both Caldwell and Martin asked FTA officials for more money but, according to a HART press release, “The FTA’s response was ‘no.’”
During the primary election, Caldwell offered up a variety of schemes to get more rail money. He said he was surveying the property owners along the rail route, hoping they would pitch in more because their properties were becoming more valuable; he said he was looking to increase density in hopes of generating more tax money; and even had a plan to end the project at Middle Street and then apply for a new federal grant to pay for a spur running from Middle to Ala Moana. No bites, meaning there is only one place Caldwell can go for more money — you.
The two Honolulu Hale rivals, Caldwell and Martin, now say they want the state to bail out the city and allow the Oahu general excise tax increase to con- tinue.
In a letter to Gov. David Ige, Martin added that because “the state currently enjoys a $1 billion general treasury cash surplus, I strongly urge you to commit a portion of this surplus to rail transit.”
“We need the Legislature’s support to invest in a better future with us,” Joey Manahan, Council transportation committee chairman, added in his own statement.
The Legislature, however, is not in any sort of tax-raising mode.
When asked about the chance of a rail bailout, House Democratic leader Rep. Scott Saiki called it “very difficult.”
He pointed out that during the last session, Ige wanted to raise the gas tax to pay for a series of major road projects and he was turned down.
“There were not sufficient votes for a tax increase; there was no support,” Saiki said in an interview.
Back in June, Caldwell said he is “not willing to consider raising real property taxes” to pay for rail, but that leaves just hoping the Legislature will raise Oahu taxes for rail.
Either way, at the end of this show, you are going to get a new and bigger bill.
Richard Borreca writes on politics on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Reach him at email@example.com.