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StarBulletin.com

Lawmakers would rob Oahu to fill treasury


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POSTED: Monday, March 09, 2009

A SENATE committee that approved a measure to transfer half of the city's rail transit revenue to the state's treasury is essentially proposing to steal money from Oahu taxpayers.

Even with an amendment to issue bonds to pay back the city, there is no guarantee that the bonds will be authorized, nor any assurance that state lawmakers will not again dip into the pot that was meant to pay for Honolulu's rail transit project.

In addition, the transfer may set off legal disputes since the City Council enacted the excise tax surcharge specifically for the transit project. If the city—or Oahu taxpayers—challenge the legislative action, the fund transfer could be encumbered until legally resolved.

The bill would allow extension of the 0.5 percent surcharge for two more years, which should not be necessary if the state plans to reimburse the city for its "loan." It also would punt to the Council the politically unpalatable task of lengthening the taxable years and further burdening city residents and businesses.

All but one of the Ways and Means Committee members voted "with reservations" to advance the bill, evidence that it has little support. Members didn't like the idea of one county's taxpayers having to pay more of a share of the state's expenses than others.

But their "reservations" don't seem to be strong enough. They seem, instead, to be reserving the option to take the money and run away from their fiscal responsibilities.