Rail Tax Vote: Follow The Money

Rick Hamada
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Wednesday - June 01, 2005

We are being railroaded into rail.

There is no other way to describe what is going on in our town. We are being taken for a ride, and it’s the only time the phantom rail system will have any passengers.

The debate about the proposed increase of the General Excise Tax by the Honolulu City Council to fund the aforementioned phantom rail system should be thrown out the window.

The essence of the project and the tax increase has nothing to do with alleviating traffic congestion down the H-1 corridor. The reality of the concerted effort expressed by rail/tax supporters is the redistribution of wealth — your money redistributed into the pockets of developers, contractors, architects and anybody else selected to participate in the rail’s construction and maintenance; your money redistributed into the pockets of specific union coffers, their bosses and members.

What other conclusion can be reached?

Let’s start with the debacle who is Rep. Neil Abercrombie, and his issuing an ultimatum to the state and the city that if they did not implement a “funding mechanism” (tax increase) for rail, then Hawaii would miss out on the Congressional Re- Authorization Bill and the transportation funding it provides. Actually, both houses of Congress have passed this transportation bill calling for more spending than the administration has stipulated, There is a possibility President Bush may veto the bill, therefore causing further delays.

What does this mean to us?

There is no validity to the statement that if Hawaii does not demonstrate a “funding mechanism” to the federal government, then we will not be eligible for federal money for the next six years. Abercrombie has advanced this idea before state Senate hearings, and these sentiments have been accepted by rail/tax supporters. The reality is this mandate is not a requirement by the Federal Transportation Administration or any other federal entity. It is a mandate made only by Abercrombie. He is demanding this “funding mechanism” in a quid pro quo for Congressional support. Abercrombie’s message is if the state and city do not come up with the bucks, he will refuse to advance any effort in Washington, D.C., to secure funds for Hawaii. The fast-tracking of the GET increase is not necessary to meet federal eligibility for transit funding, it is only to satisfy Abercrombie’s role in this orchestrated effort to deliver government money to a few.

The fast tracking of the GET is justified under questionable pretenses. We are being told that if we, the people, do not support the tax increase, then we are not going to be eligible for federal funds for several years. What supporters do not tell you is that even if the GET is increased, Hawaii will not be awarded cash, if any, by the feds, for years. Why? It will take years to develop an acceptable environmental impact statement. There is no route or plan to submit to the federal government. We will not meet cost benefit analysis based on our estimated cost of construction. We cannot compete with other states and municipalities which have all their data completed and presentations submitted. It’s like we’re at the starting line in a 100-mile race and everybody else has a 99-mile lead.

Let’s assume for a moment we are eligible for federal assistance. The Re-Authorization Bill allows for $50 billion to be distributed to all communities requesting aid for rapid transit projects. We have been told by supporters of rail/tax that the feds could award up to $500 million to Hawaii. Let me emphasize — they could award up to $500 million. There is no hard figure that supporters of rail/tax can promise from the federal government. But supporters do factor $500 million into their phantom budgeting, which means every dollar short of halfa- billion dollars not given by the feds will be paid by you.

There is no evidence — not a shred — that a rail system will relieve traffic congestion and prevent potential gridlock. Our elected officials are pushing through this GET increase so quickly as to avoid profound and specific debate on the pros and cons of this project. Why? One can only conclude supporters of rail/tax have an indefensible position.

What we can see is there will be almost $3 billion put into construction and maintenance of this public works behemoth. If the rail system won’t significantly alleviate traffic congestion and deliver relief to commuters, then why is this tax increase and transit proposal sailing through?

As Watergate’s Deep Throat said, “Follow the money.”

There’s where you will find the real reason for rail.

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