Bill to delay rail tax hits heavy traffic
A bill to move back the tax hike heads to committees
The city administration tried to derail a bill that would delay a tax hike to feed a proposed rail system -- even before it was introduced.
For more than five hours, the City Council heard testimony from almost 100 people, many of them administration officials who said introducing Bill 83 would send the wrong message to federal officials, who control critical funding for the project.
But the long discussion was about whether to have a discussion over the bill. Yesterday's hearing was only to move the bill past first reading.
The strong opposition, with many members of Mayor Mufi Hannemann's Cabinet present at the City Council chambers yesterday, baffled some of the councilmembers, saying moving a bill past first reading is only procedural.
"We have no other way to have a bill introduced except to have them pass first reading," said Vice Chairwoman Ann Kobayashi. "It's honoring someone's right to voice an opinion. ... When we pass first-reading bills, that doesn't mean we agree with them."
The general excise tax will increase to 4.5 percent from 4 percent on Jan. 1 to pay for the city's share of the rail system. The Council is expected to make that decision by Dec. 31.
Bill 83, introduced by Councilman Charles Djou, would move back the start of the tax hike to July. But if the Council makes a decision after Dec. 31, the tax hike would begin Jan. 1, 2008.
Dozens of representatives from worker unions and construction firms testified against the bill and for transit. Some residents also complained of traffic problems, while others said they do not want housing costs to increase because of something they would never use.
City Budget Director Mary Patricia Waterhouse said passing the bill would jeopardize $75 million in federal funding for the project, expected to cost billions.
But Djou said he met with the Federal Transit Administration, who told him release of federal funds is not dependent on when the taxes would be collected.
Djou railed against the administration's presence at the hearing, calling the hearing "all about power and control in Honolulu Hale."
"I've never, ever seen so much discussion on whether or not we should have a discussion," Djou said.
The bill did pass and will go to the Budget and Transportation committees, respectively chaired by Kobayashi and Romy Cachola. However, Councilmen Todd Apo, Nestor Garcia and Rod Tam voted against moving the bill to committees.
Tam said Bill 79, the main transit bill, will have its second-reading hearing on Dec. 7, after a series of public hearings on the bill and the upcoming tax increase.
"You're going to confuse the public by having this Bill 83," Tam said.