Transit bill would link funds with deadlines
The mayor says the city cannot meet the measure's schedule
Leaders of three state Senate committees interested in ensuring the city moves forward with its $3.8 billion fixed-guideway project are debating a bill threatening to suspend a funding source if certain deadlines are not met as a way to keep the pressure on city officials.
Some supporters are mindful of a 5-4 decision by the Honolulu City Council in 1992 that abruptly derailed a proposed transit system.
The bill would require the city to select a technology for the route going from Kapolei to Ala Moana by June 30 and to award a contract by Dec. 31 or else lose the local excise tax money needed to fund the project.
Sen. Carol Fukunaga (D, Lower Maikiki-Punchbowl), chairwoman of the Economic Development and Taxation Committee, said in a meeting Wednesday that she cannot support the measure with its current deadlines. Mayor Mufi Hannemann testified that the city would be unable to meet one of them because of federal regulations.
Others argued that the bill is unnecessary because the city seems to be on schedule to break ground late next year.
"There's no indication it'll fall through," said Sen. Will Espero (D, Ewa-Honouliuli-Ewa Beach). "There's every indication it will happen."
"The last time there was indication it would happen, and it didn't," said Sen. J. Kalani English, chairman of the Transportation and International Affairs Committee, referring to the 1992 Council's decision to withhold local funding that killed the project.
The senators are expected to make a decision this afternoon to amend the bill, hold it or defer it. If the committees, which also include the Intergovernmental and Military Affairs Committee, decide to push the bill forward, it would go to the Senate Ways and Means Committee for approval.
As of November the city collected nearly $135 million from state excise taxes. If the bill passes and the city misses its deadlines, the money would then go to the state highway fund for other transportation projects.
Hannemann told senators that a panel of experts is expected to select a technology by the end of the month. However, he said, awarding a contract to a company by the end of the year is impossible because federal rules say the city must first complete an environmental impact statement, which is not expected until next year.
After the hearing, Hannemann said that he worries about the negative message the bill could send to lawmakers in Washington, who might be hesitant in providing federal funds, especially after the 1992 incident.
"In a perfect world, we'd prefer not to have the (bill)," Hannemann said last week. "Obviously, any time there appears to be an opportunity to revisit the decision made, it sends shock waves not only here at home, but in Washington. This is a risk to push the bill through."