Panel approves tax
hike for Oahu rail system

The Senate Transportation Committee approved increasing the state excise tax on Oahu by 12.5 percent -- to 4.5 percent from 4 percent -- to pay for a state-built rail transit system linking Honolulu with West Oahu.

"The need is so great in this county that we cannot gamble on the fact that the city may not pass the tax. The city may not get enough money," Committee Chairman Cal Kawamoto (D, Waipahu), said yesterday.

State of Hawaii He said it is urgent that the state begin now to build the transit line before the traffic congestion on the H-1 freeway corridor reaches gridlock.

It is also important for the Legislature and governor to approve the funding mechanism before Feb. 29 to get in on the current cycle of federal funding for transportation projects, Kawamoto said.

The measure was approved on a 4-2 vote yesterday and goes next to an uncertain fate before the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Voting against the bill were Sens. Rosalyn Baker (D, Honokohau-Makena) and Ron Menor (D, Mililani).

Kawamoto's proposal that the state build the transit system and turn it over to the city to operate is contrary to Gov. Linda Lingle's view that it be a city project.

Lingle has supported giving the counties "home rule" authority to assess an excise tax for transportation projects.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Urban Honolulu) stressed to a meeting of the state House Transportation Committee that Congress will not consider any matching funds for an Oahu rail system until the city locks down a funding mechanism to pay the local share.

Despite Kawamoto's sense of urgency, Abercrombie said he doubts the project could be included in the current fed- eral legislation for funding transportation projects.

Abercrombie recalled what happened in 1992, when the state approved an excise tax increase for a 16-mile transit system with $620 million in federal funding lined up by Hawaii's congressional delegation only to have then-Honolulu City Council member Rene Mansho switch her vote to kill it.

"We have more people being shoved into the same place with no capacity to get back and forth, and you've got to figure out a transportation system to do that," Abercrombie said. "Whether it's rail or it's BRT (bus rapid transit) or it's a combination or whatever it is, for God's sake, put the funding mechanism in place so I can get the federal dollars in here."

City Department of Transportation Services Director Cheryl Soon said the city is considering going ahead with local money to start a short segment of the rail system, perhaps between Waipahu and Pearl City.

It would allow building to begin while the city completes the lengthy planning and application process for federal funding needed to extend the system to its full length.

At a hearing before the Senate committee vote, Department of Transportation Director Rod Haraga submitted testimony that "it is premature to decide and implement any new tax measures for the mass-transit rail system at this time."

Department of Taxation Director Kurt Kawafuchi estimated that the 0.5 percent "mass-transit excise tax" that would take effect July 1, 2005, and drop dead in 10 years would raise $141 million the first year and $162 million the following year.


E-mail to City Desk


Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
© 2004 Honolulu Star-Bulletin --