Four months after their initial efforts collapsed, state House and Senate majorities have swiftly passed a $2.4 billion funding deal, hoping it will finally be enough to get rail all the way to Ala Moana Center.
The House voted 31-15 with five members absent Friday to pass Senate Bill 4, following the Senate’s approval on Wednesday. The body also rejected four amendments by their Republican-minority members that would have extended the Legislature’s weeklong special session into next week.
The agreement, which Gov. David Ige said he intends to sign by Tuesday, looks to extend Oahu’s general excise tax surcharge an additional three years to 2030 and increase the state’s hotel room tax 1 percentage point, to 10.25 percent, for the next 13 years.
HOW THE HOUSE VOTED
>> Henry Aquino (D, Waipahu)
>> Della Au Belatti (D, Moiliili-Makiki-Tantalus)
>> Ty Cullen (D, Waipahu-Royal Kunia-Makakilo)
>> Beth Fukumoto (D, Mililani-Mililani Mauka-Waipio Acres)
>> Cedric Gates (D, Waianae-Makaha-Makua)
>> Daniel Holt (D, Chinatown-Iwilei-Kalihi)
>> Linda Ichiyama (D, Salt Lake-Moanalua Valley)
>> Kaniela Ing (D, South Maui)
>> Ken Ito (D, Kaneohe-Maunawili-Kailua)
>> Aaron Ling Johanson (D, Fort Shafter-Moanalua Gardens-Aliamanu)
>> Jarrett Keohokalole (D, Kahaluu-Aliamanu-Kaneohe)
>> Bert Kobayashi (D, Diamond Head-Kaimuki-Kapahulu)
>> Chris Lee (D, Kailua-Lanikai-Waimanalo)
>> Matthew LoPresti (D, Ewa Villages-Ocean Pointe-Ewa Beach)
>> Sylvia Luke (D, Punchbowl-Pauoa-Nuuanu)
>> Bob McDermott (R, Ewa Beach-Iroquois Point)
>> John Mizuno (D, Kamehameha Heights-Kalihi Valley)
>> Dee Morikawa (D, Niihau-Koloa-Kokee)
>> Nadine Nakamura (D, Hanalei-Princeville-Kapaa)
>> Mark Nakashima (D, Kukuihaele-Laupahoehoe-North Hilo)
>> Takashi Ohno (D, Nuuanu-Liliha-Alewa Heights)
>> Richard Onishi (D, South Hilo-Keaau-Honuapo)
>> Marcus Oshiro (D, Wahiawa-Whitmore-Poamoho)
>> Scott Saiki (D, Downtown-Kakaako-McCully)
>> Joy San Buenaventura (D, Pahoa-Kalapana)
>> Joe Souki (D, Waihee-Waiehu-Wailuku)
>> Gregg Takayama (D, Pearl City-Waimalu-Pacific Palisades)
>> Roy Takumi (D, Pearl City-Waipio-Pearl Harbor)
>> Justin Woodson (D, Kahului-Wailuku-Puunene)
>> Ryan Yamane (D, Mililani-Waipio-Waikele)
>> Kyle Yamashita (D, Spreckelsville-Upcountry Maui)
>> Tom Brower (D, Waikiki-Ala Moana-Kakaako)
>> Romy Cachola, (D, Sand Island-Kalihi-Airport)
>> Richard Creagan (D, Naalehu-Captain Cook-Keauhou)
>> Lynn DeCoite (D, Lanai-Molokai-Paia-Hana)
>> Cindy Evans (D, Kaupulehu-Waimea-Halaula)
>> Sam Kong (D, Halawa-Aiea-Newtown)
>> Nicole Lowen (D, Holualoa-Kailua-Kona-Honokohau)
>> Angus McKelvey (D, Lahaina-Kaanapali-Honokohau)
>> Sean Quinlan (D, Wailua-Kahuku-Waiahole)
>> Calvin Say (D, Palolo-St. Louis Heights-Kaimuki)
>> Cynthia Thielen (R, Kailua-Kaneohe)
>> Chris Todd (D, Hilo-Waiakea-Keaukaha)
>> James Tokioka (D, Wailua-Hanamaulu-Lihue)
>> Andria Tupola (R, Kalaeloa-Ko Olina-Maili)
>> Gene Ward (R, Kalama Valley-Queen’s Gate-Hawaii Kai)
>> Isaac Choy (D, Manoa-Punahou-Moiliili)
>> Sharon Har (D, Kapolei-Makakilo)
>> Mark Hashem (D, Hahaione Valley-Aina Haina-Kahala)
>> Scott Nishimoto (D, McCully-Moiliili-Kapahulu)
>> Lauren Matsumoto (R, Mililani-Schofield-Kunia)
It gives Honolulu’s fiscally troubled rail project a shot in the arm at a time when it’s as controversial as ever across Hawaii, with the price tag having nearly doubled in the past three years to almost $10 billion.
It also comes ahead of the Federal Transit Administration’s latest, Sept. 15 deadline for the city to finally provide a plan to solve rail’s massive shortfall.
The city risks losing at least some of its $1.55 billion in federal dollars for rail if it misses that extended deadline — although critics have argued rail leaders should nonetheless stop and reassess the project.
The bill contains several provisions that now give the state much greater scrutiny over a county transit project, including a comprehensive audit by the state auditor due by the end of 2018. It also tasks the state comptroller with reviewing whether the rail authority’s invoices are appropriate before releasing funds, and has both legislative chambers appoint two nonvoting members each to the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation board.
Critics had called for a special audit on rail’s jarring price increases before giving the project any money. However, state leaders opted to keep rail moving rather than risk any more delay-related costs.
“Frankly, I wouldn’t vote for this if it didn’t have the audit,” Rep. Matt LoPresti (D, Ewa Villages-Ocean Pointe-Ewa Beach) said Friday.
Despite U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa’s assurances to lawmakers this week that the spending package was solid, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell continued to express misgivings after Friday’s vote, warning that city taxpayers would likely be on the hook if the state’s funding package wasn’t enough.
Caldwell said he hasn’t yet spoken with FTA officials, but he remained steadfast that the agency “may” eventually require the city to show that it can handle an approximately $548 million financial “stress test” on rail. (He added that he would have liked to have participated in Hanabusa’s conference call with FTA leaders Wednesday.)
Those repeated assertions have irked state lawmakers for the past two weeks, leading even some rail allies in the chambers to openly question Caldwell’s trustworthiness.
“I know at times tempers have flared, and there’s been anxiety, frustration,” Caldwell said. “Maybe that was meant to be with a project like rail.”
However, he vowed that “if my worst fears come true — and I hope they don’t,” then the city would return to state leaders for more help with any future rail budget shortfalls.
That’s a completely different tenor from what the mayor and rail leaders projected in 2015, when the city previously secured a five-year general excise tax surcharge extension until 2027 to bail out rail. Back then, project leaders assured the public that $1.5 billion or so would likely be way more than enough to finish the rail line.
The week’s special session generated plenty of acrimony over the bill’s statewide increase on the transient accommodations tax. At times it pitted neighbor island legislators and County Council members against their Oahu counterparts.
“I hate being put in this position,” Rep. Joy San Buenaventura (D, Pahoa-Kalapana) said on the House floor Tuesday. “I hate that the mayor” came back and asked for more money for rail, she added.
House Speaker Scott Saiki acknowledged that the bill proved divisive.
“The Legislature and the counties must work together to strengthen our relationship,” Saiki (D, Downtown-Kakaako-McCully) said. “This will require focus, humility and hard work.”
If the relationship stays the same coming out of session, he said, it “poses significant risk on all islands and in every county.”
A small faction of Republicans led by Rep. Andria Tupola (R, Kalaeloa-Ko Olina-Maili) proposed four amendments on the House floor. They included proposals to make the state auditor’s audit “forensic” in nature; exclude neighbor island counties from the increased rail hotel tax; cap total rail funds from the state at $7.4 billion; and require 10 percent of rail’s total construction costs be covered by public-private partnerships.
All four amendments were voted down. At least a half-dozen Democratic neighbor island lawmakers threw their support behind the amendment that would have carved out their islands from the hotel tax hike.
House Finance Chairwoman Sylvia Luke (D, Punchbowl-Pauoa-Nuuanu) said that labeling the audit “forensic” could potentially make it too restrictive and limit its scope. State Auditor Les Kondo, she said, would aggressively scrutinize the rail project.
“This guy is a pit bull. I don’t think adding the word ‘forensic’ is going to stop him from looking for waste,” she said.
Rep. Bert Kobayashi (D, Diamond Head-Kaimuki-Kapahulu), who said he previously opposed rail, voted in favor of the bill. “Rail is the future,” he said. “It is too late, much too late … to go back to square one.”
The House’s Republican members weren’t united in their opposition to the bill, however. Rep. Bob McDermott (R, Ewa Beach-Iroquois Point) said his support for rail “makes me about as popular as a dirty sock in your Caesar salad” among his minority-party colleagues.
Star-Advertiser reporter Nanea Kalani contributed to this report.