Honolulu’s beleaguered rail project squeaked out the sixth, pivotal City Council vote today required to float bonds that transit officials say they need to keep construction going past January.
City Councilman Trevor Ozawa represented the swing vote, switching from a “no” to a “yes” after he read a statement from the dais at Honolulu Hale. Ozawa, whose district includes East Honolulu and Waikiki, said that he’s “troubled” how rail has “lurched from one crises to another” but that “the other alternatives (to bonding) are fraught with worse challenges.”
Councilmembers Ron Menor, Ikaika Anderson, Joey Manahan, Kymberly Pine and Brandon Elefante joined Ozawa in securing the necessary six votes to authorize up to $350 million in city general obligation bonds for the island’s rail project. Councilmembers Ernie Martin, Ann Kobayashi and Carol Fukunaga voted against.
The Honolulu Charter requires six of nine Councilmembers — instead of the standard majority of five — to vote to approve a bond-related measure on its final reading.
The move, rail officials say, will help to ensure that the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation has enough funds to pay its bills on existing contracts — as well as several new ones — for construction as far as Middle Street.
Rail officials say there’s enough money to cover those contracts. Their costs, however, are now outpacing rail’s general excise tax surcharge revenues, which expire in 2027.
While the situation is essentially a cash flow issue and not tied to the larger, long-term budget deficit that the project faces, it nonetheless provided an opportunity for rail opponents to testify against the project, its runaway costs and how it’s been managed.
Critic Natalie Iwasa said costs have spiraled out of control. “I think at this point we desperately need accountability,” she said.
“Who was minding the store? Who was watching the books?” asked Councilwoman Kobayashi.
Anderson, who voted for the proposal, said killing the project would cost money and he’s unwilling to spend more to shut the system down and leave taxpayers with nothing in return.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.