How to shore up rail project’s budget? HART wants visitors to foot some of the bill.

Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) sees an opportunity to have tourists fund the rest of the rail project.
Published: Oct. 4, 2021 at 10:34 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 4, 2021 at 10:35 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Should tourists help fund the rail project?

The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation is among those exploring the idea, which would use hotel room tax revenues to help shore up the budget for the embattled project.

HART board Chair Colleen Hanabusa says an upcoming assessment will reveal the true cost of building the rest of the rail line. She doesn’t believe the deficit is $3.5 billion.

“I hope that this the council as well as the city will look upon the TAT (transient accommodations tax) 3% because there is no such limitation by the Legislature on these funds,” Hanabusa explained.

“So, it could be in the future, something that the City Council and city can look upon as some way to defray the costs of operations and maintenance.”

HNN Political Analyst Colin Moore says using hotel room taxes would be a politically palatable way to address HART’s massive shortfall.

“This is going to set up, I think, some real difficulties politically for the council,” said Moore. “Because there are members who think that the state should provide more support and the city should retain that TAT money for its own projects.”

The county proposed TAT of up to 3% would be split three ways including general funds, transit funds, and an account toward maintaining public facilities including beaches and parks.

How much will each get is yet to be determined.

There is still no final plan for the remaining part of the rail is which is why Calvin Say, chair of the council’s Budget Committee, says he’s waiting to see what HART’s finances will look like.

But Say says using the hotel room tax toward city services like the Honolulu Ocean Safety, Honolulu Fire and Police Department is critical.

“All the quality services that we are providing to the residents of Oahu should also go back to the residents in trying to maintain or not increasing our residential real property taxes,” said Say.

“What HART has to do more than anything at this point, it has to build public confidence,” said Hanabusa. “The public has got to feel that HART knows what it’s talking about.”

Hanabusa said the assessment report on the project’s shortfall isn’t due until early November.

The bill is up for first reading at the City Council meeting on Wednesday.

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