Rail budget scrutinized at city council

Rail CEO Dan Grabauskas
Rail CEO Dan Grabauskas
Tulsi Gabbard
Tulsi Gabbard
Ann Kobayashi
Ann Kobayashi

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The rail budget hearing took some strange twists today.  This as the new rail boss testified for the first time before city council members.

The new rail CEO Dan Grabauskas pledged many times today the train will get built on time and on budget.  He stopped short of guaranteeing it but he does want to get the public confidence back.

"Every dollar being asked for I'm going to scrutinize," said Dan Grabauskas, during testimony to the budget committee.

Dan Grabauskas came in from Massachusetts where politics is said to be a blood sport.  Perhaps Honolulu politics is a circus.  As the rail chief testified an unidentified man kept placing things next to him at the testimony table including a cardboard box with a red cross taped to it, two bibles and a newspaper.

Unfazed Grabauskas stayed on track.  The man eventually disappeared without anyone saying a word about it.  The hearing continued without any clowns just questions from council members.

"Your salary is three times that of the governor, or somebody trying to find a cure for Aids, all the other things out there you make three times their salary," asked Tom Berg, Honolulu City Councilmember.

"I'm under no illusions that it is a high salary, but I would also pledge to you that it is my hope and belief that, as I have been able to do in past positions, it will be an investment that will save money," responded Grabauskas, who is making $322,000 a year with bonuses.

Many other issues were brought up on the $5.3 billion project, namely money.  Grabauskas says he is frugal and cheap and will go line by line through the rail authority's $22 million operating budget and delete the frivolous items even employees if need be.

Grabauskas is also asking for a fresh start for the project.

"I hope to prove to you and to the other members of the council and to the public that those things that have caused them heartburn and concern and doubt will be dealt with and I will do that as firmly and openly as possible and I take it to heart that we're not going to waste your money," said Grabauskas.

"I think people are at a level of frustration where going off of faith alone is absolutely not going to be enough so your fresh start is going to have to come with action and results in a quick manner," responded Tulsi Gabbard, Honolulu City Councilmember. "People are frustrated and feeling like those within the rail administration have a lack of care for our taxpayer dollars."

"We want to assure the public that this is a project that is going to be done on time and on budget," said Grabauskas. "You will hear me many times remind folks that these are public dollars and we maintain the public trust."

"Over the years we have not had truthful answers and that's why the trust has not been there. That's why I worry about the bond money because I just can't trust them," said Ann Kobayashi, Budget Committee Chair, after the hearing.

"I'm listening. I have heard about transparency. I have heard about costs. I've heard about concern that we do this in a smart and prudent and fiscally sound and responsible fashion and that's what I'm doing," said Grabauskas, after the hearing.

In addition to the $22 million operating budget the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation is also seeking nearly half a billion dollars for next year's capital construction budget.

Grabauskas asked to come back to the council later with any deletions or changes to the budget.  It will have to be soon.  The budget needs to be approved by the end of June.

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