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StarBulletin.com

Hannemann's dream could become nightmare


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POSTED: Wednesday, October 21, 2009

All the indications are that Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann is circling Dec. 6, 2010, as the day he becomes governor—but he may want to keep the Wite-Out close at hand.

The last two years of a mayor's term are rarely the best or the most popular, but Hannemann is going out of his way to leave City Hall at a scary time.

In his calm, sober manner, Hannemann managed early in his first term to get either agreement or at least no rejection to raising the state's general excise tax on Oahu to build Hawaii's most ambitious construction project: the train line from Kapolei to Ala Moana.

In a state where relocating a traffic signal can become front-page news, Hannemann's handiwork—first at the Legislature, then with the Lingle administration, then the City Council and finally the general public—has been something of a marathon political tap dance.

That was just the beginning. Now he's promising a December groundbreaking and then full speed ahead through his campaign for governor next year. The construction schedule presumes work will go on.

Hannemann must dream of TV pictures of armies of local construction workers building a solution to Oahu's traffic nightmare.

His nightmares must be of TV crews broadcasting live reports from abandoned work sites, closed because the city ran out of money; angry native Hawaiian pickets protesting the rail plowing through burials; sobbing widows evicted as the city takes their land; and the unenviable montage of Kailua and Hawaii Kai taxpayers decrying the whole project.

If the mayor's train is a potentially risky business, it is nothing compared to the city's looming deficit, already estimated at more than $120 million.

The city raised fees this year, but the big budget adjustment will come next year because Hannemann and the City Council already made the easy cuts.

Next up will be property tax increases.

The mayor also will be faced with furloughing city workers and perhaps laying some off.

The grim financial picture now showing at the state Capitol is about to move across the street to Honolulu Hale.

Mufi Hannemann will be on stage either as mayor or as a candidate for governor—and the audience may not be cheering.