A Question Of Trust In Rail Planners

Larry Price
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Wednesday - June 28, 2006
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Politicians spend a lot of time wondering why the public doesn’t understand or particularly care what they are talking about. A good example is the ongoing babble about the financing of the proposed mass transit improvements.

After all these years and name calling between elected officials, it appeared that finally something was going to happen to establish some kind of cohesive plan to finance the construction of a modern mass transit system to bring people from the Leeward coast to Honolulu with convenient sub stations all along the way.

The estimated cost is staggering, and in all probability will end up costing twice as much as anyone can anticipate at this time. It doesn’t seem to matter, because the population of Oahu will continue to grow by leaps and bounds, and during rush hours the traffic has become unbearable.

The biggest stumbling block from the beginning has been the cost. The federal government has always been willing to make a substantial contribution to the project. It has always been the inability of the state and city politicians to achieve consensus on a plan to make it happen.

The Legislature passed a law to allow a general excise tax surcharge for a mass transit system. The problem was there was no money appropriated to set up a system of collecting and distributing the tax. The governor reluctantly allowed the bill to become law without her signature and immediately she was at odds with Mayor Hannemann because the Legislature failed to appropriate a single cent for a collection system of the transit, which goes into effect in January.

This is where everything got very political. Lingle wanted the City Council to loan the state $5 million to fund the collection of the extra half-percent surcharge, which is expected to amount to $150 million per year. In return, the state would repay the $5 million loan to the C&C of Honolulu. For various reasons that elude the taxpayers, the City Council balked at loaning the $5 million, even though it was going to be receiving $150 million and return of the $5 million.

There were a variety of smoke screens and posturing by all sides. Hannemann reverted to his childhood and compared the governor to former councilwoman Renee Mansho, and threatened to sue the state of Hawaii because the governor wouldn’t agree to pay for collecting the half-percent surcharge.

The mayor finally came to his senses and proposed for the state to collect the extra half-percent surcharge with assurances from legislative leaders they would then appropriate $5 million to underwrite the costs of implementing the surcharge. Meanwhile, the City Council would convene in special session next month to approve a $5 million guarantee, just in case state lawmakers failed to keep their promise and pass the appropriation.

Finally, Lingle’s chief of staff, Bob Awana, came out from behind the scenes and mediated the final agreement between the warring factions. A final vote by the City Council is pending.

There are still questions why this political hocus-pocus is necessary. Simply put, the law says the extra half-percent surcharge will bring in $150 million, and that 10 percent of that money would stay with the state to finance the complex collection system. The state budget director testified more than once that the money was needed to set up the system to collect the surcharge, but for some unknown reason, the lawmaker refused to allocate any money in the bill knowing full well it would cause a conflict between the state and the C&C of Honolulu.

The reason is anyone’s guess, and it’s probably just election-year politics.

One thing is for sure, there is an abundance of evidence these people don’t trust each other. And if they don’t trust each other to do what’s right, what makes them think the taxpayers should trust them?

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