HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - At a time when the embattled rail project is facing massive cost overruns and is laying off dozens of staffers, the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation has awarded former Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa a $216,000 consulting contract.
And that’s raising eyebrows.
“I do question the need to spend this kind of money. I do think the optics are bad,” said Hawaii News Now political analyst Colin Moore.
“It also raises the questions in the minds of the public, who’s already disgusted with the cost overruns, and now they see a relatively large lobbying contract going to someone who is very well connected in Hawaii politics.”
Hanabusa — a former HART board member — was hired to help the HART board lobby federal, state and county officials.
According to HART’s request for proposals, the term of the contract is for five months and can be extended for up to six years.
HART said Hanabusa was the only person who bid for the contract.
Hanabusa — who served several terms in the US House of Representatives and was president of the state Senate — is highly qualified for the position, Moore said. But he said the timing of the hiring will be hard to justify to the public given the rail project’s financial woes.
The contract award comes as HART will likely seek a bail out from either the state or the federal government.
And that’s not going to be an easy job.
Last month, rail officials indicated they needed someone with a lot of political clout to make that pitch.
“You need to have somebody at the level of Sen. Daniel Inouye to make amendments to the general excise tax,” said Joey Manahan, HART director of government relations, during a March 11 HART board meeting.
“If not Sen. Inouye, then it would have to be the level of the speaker, the level of the governor, the level of the senate president.”