Mayor Hannemann’s New Deal

Rick Hamada
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Wednesday - October 29, 2008

Judging by the news coverage, the presidential race is dominating the headlines and talk around the water cooler. I can understand the excitement.

But the upcoming election demands our attention to other issues and races. We will determine who will be our next mayor, congressional representatives, state representatives, about half of the state Senate, the Board of Education, OHA and more. Plus, we are being asked to decide on several city ballot questions and two amendments to our state Constitution. There’s a lot going on.

The question regarding the rail project for Honolulu is of great importance. I have been writing about the rail project and discussing the issue on my radio program for years. We are just days away from determining whether or not this project is truly beneficial to our community, and I am hopeful each and every one of you will cast your vote. I am equally hopeful that, when you cast your vote, you are as informed as possible about the details of the project. I know both supporters and opponents of rail will try to convince you they’re right and the other guy is wrong. The best we can do is obtain as much information as possible and make up our own minds.

But the massive “information” campaign undertaken by the city and supporters of rail has inundated the pages and airwaves of local media. The city’s “information” campaign clearly is a promotional vehicle for pro-rail supporters. It is well-documented that the city has used taxpayer money to fund commercial messages and print advertisements. The city claims the taxpayer-funded “information” campaign is a Federal Transit Authority requirement. But according to Malia Zimmerman of Hawaii Reporter, this is not true. Zimmerman recently published a written exchange she had with Paul Griffo, senior public affairs officer, Federal Transit Authority. This correspondence unequivocally states there is no policy within the FTA requiring a public “information” campaign.

Why did the city claim it was required by the Federal Transit Authority to produce taxpayer-funded “information” messages when the FTAstates it has no such regulation or requirement?

This development causes one to question other claims regarding the rail project submitted by the city and pro-rail supporters. There are several, but the one that causes me greatest concern is the continual and repeated statement that the city will receive federal funding for the project. I want to be crystal clear on this point. The city has not received nor is there any budgeted federal money for this rail project. Yes, there has been a minimal amount of federal money awarded to the city for initial design, but not one dollar has been earmarked for the construction of this system. But this fact doesn’t stop the city and pro-rail representatives from invoking U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar and his now famous “$900 million” figure. Yes, Oberstar is chair of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, but there is no documentation to substantiate this figure and confirm Honolulu will receive any federal funding.

As a matter of fact, the aforementioned Paul Griffo of the FTA submitted the following statement to Stop Rail Now in response to federal funding, “It is far to early to tell whether Honolulu’s proposed rail project will receive New Starts funding. The project hasn’t yet been accepted into the New Starts Program.”

By the way, the FTA has yet to receive the required Draft Environmental Impact Statement, let alone the EIS itself. In other words, the FTA has yet to begin any substantial analysis of the proposed system.

This hasn’t stopped the collection of the GET surcharge since January 2007. About $250 million has been collected with 10 percent of this amount going directly to state coffers. But GET collections are down dramatically because of our faltering economy. That means less GET money to pay for the project.

Before you cast your vote, ask this question: “Exactly how will the city pay for the construction and maintenance of the rail project?” If the federal contribution of $900 million is suspect and GET collections are less than projected, then where will the $5 billion-plus come from to pay for rail?

The city also is touting the rail project as an economic benefit to Honolulu. Arecent newspaper article (Honolulu Advertiser, 10-21-08) reports, “A major piece of his (Hannemann’s) economic program will be the rail project. Construction of the $3.7 billion commuter rail project coupled with the development that grows around it will create jobs and infuse money into the local market, he said.”

“We’re going to prime the pump the way FDR did - by putting workers to work on jobs we need to have,” Hannemann said.This simple sentence confirms what I have been saying since day one. Rail is not a transportation project; rather it is a make work project benefitting a few while paid for by many. There is no “infusion” of money into our economy via the rail project. It is a textbook example of the redistribution of revenue from Honolulu taxpayers directly to the beneficiaries of rail construction and maintenance. I encourage you to read the analysis of FDR’s New Deal by Jim Powell, senior fellow of the Cato Institute at http://www.cato. com for a glimpse of our future with FDR economic policies.

Mayor Hannemann’s New Deal will prove to be a Bad Deal for Honolulu.

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