As it slashes its budget, HART to spend $1M for lobbyist and government consultant

Published: Mar. 12, 2021 at 10:09 AM HST|Updated: Mar. 12, 2021 at 10:11 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - During a time when it’s slashing its budget and laying off longtime employees, the rail authority is looking to award lucrative lobbying and consultant contracts.

The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation recently issued proposal requests for a federal lobbyist and a board consultant to lobby local government leaders.

HART said it plans to spend about $1 million over the next several years.

“I did not initiate this, but I am in full support of this because any support we can get is needed,” said HART interim CEO Lori Kahikina.

But political analysts said awarding a six-figure lobbying contract at a time the rail authority is struggling sends the wrong message.

“This is a big contract and it further erodes the public support for HART to see things like this,” said Colin Moore, University of Hawaii political science professor and Hawaii News Now political analyst.

“People begin to conclude more and more that this is just a way to provide compensation for well-connected people.”

HART said it needs a federal lobbyist to raise funds from congress for the financially plagued rail system. It said it also need to lobby the Federal Transit Administration to develop a new financial recovery plan.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, HART used to spend about $320,000 a year to lobby the federal government.

But former CEO Andrew Robbins cut that out of the budget two years ago as costs for the rail system skyrocketed to about $11 billion.

The board consultant is a newly created position and requires very specific job qualifications, including:

  • A law degree and 20 years of legal practice
  • Minimum 10 years of experience at the city or state
  • Minimum five years experience at a federal level

“Those things together would appear to be written for a certain person. They are so specific,” said investigative reporter and blogger Ian Lind.

Lind said some of the duties of the board consultant were previously handled by staff who have since been terminated.

Since January, at least a dozen HART staffers and consultants have been let go from HART, and many more are expected.

These positions include:

  • Former Hawaii Tourism Authority official and past HART Chief Operating Officer David Uchiyama
  • Ex-journalist and former spokesman Bill Brennan
  • Former reporter and rail project Public Involvement Information Specialist Jai Cunningham

“They’ve lost significant experience within the agency and are left to having to go to outsourcing,” said Lind.

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