Measure ties hikes in
taxation to rail plan

The Council could reconsider
increases if terms are not met

At least five of nine City Council members have raised questions about planning for a rail transit system on Oahu.

The Council members have tied their queries to a vote on increasing the general excise tax to fund a rail system's construction and operations.

The latest action came during an unveiling of a new proposal by Councilman Rod Tam to amend Bill 40, which increases to 4.5 percent the general excise tax to fund transportation, on the floor of Monday's Council meeting.

The Council voted 7-2 on its first pass at Bill 40 last month. Monday's vote would be the second of three required readings. Council members Barbara Marshall and Charles Djou voted no.

But Tam's proposed amendment also has the support of Council Chairman Donovan Dela Cruz and Council Budget Chairwoman Ann Kobayashi, who reiterated their support for moving forward with raising taxes to fund traffic improvements.

The proposal would allow the tax to be levied on Jan. 1, 2007. The City Council may reconsider the tax hike later if three conditions are not met: The operational, financial, developmental and route plan for a proposed transit system must be completed; the Council must vote to approve such a system; and a commitment of federal funding must be made.

"We're not wavering. We just want these concerns aired," Dela Cruz said. "It still allows Bill 40 to go ahead."

Djou, who has voted against the measure because he is opposed to raising taxes, said he sees it differently.

"It's a vehicle to oppose a tax increase while voting for a tax increase," Djou said. "Either you favor the tax or you don't. The reality is you have to pick a side."

Kobayashi, however, said that like the sewer fee hike the Council is poised to pass on Monday along with the city budget, she does not like raising taxes but is concerned about traffic.

"We don't want to increase sewer fees, but we have to fix the sewers," she said.

She said that if federal officials believe that the proposed amendment will jeopardize federal funding, the language can be changed.

Both Tam and Dela Cruz said they do not believe the amendment will send negative signals to federal officials or to Gov. Linda Lingle, who has yet to decide whether to sign the bill that authorizes the counties to impose the 0.5 percentage point tax hike.

Meanwhile, critics of the tax hike are stepping up their campaign to kill the tax hike.

Signs have been popping up in Council districts asking constituents to call their Council members.

"Tell Ann Kobayashi No to Rail Tax," says a sign propped up in Manoa Triangle Park.

"People have the right to put up that kind of sign. It just makes it more difficult. None of us wants to raise taxes, but we have the responsibility to find a solution to traffic," Kobayashi said, noting she is getting complaints from residents on fixed incomes.

The signs were erected by the group Honolulutraffic.com, formerly known as the Alliance for Traffic Improvement, which is critical of rail transit.

The group's spokesman, Cliff Slater, said the signs are meant to educate the public about the tax hike while also asking residents to call their Council member.

"We hope they will go on our Web site and see what we have to say. We hope they will join the effort, and we hope they call their councilperson and have them justify a half-a-percent tax," Slater said.

Slater said he believes that Tam's latest proposal would result in a tax increase being passed without a plan.

"I think it's crazy," Slater said.

| | |
E-mail to City Desk


© Honolulu Star-Bulletin -- https://archives.starbulletin.com