Proposed Oahu fuel tax increase killed at city council

Proposed Oahu fuel tax increase killed at city council
Published: Mar. 20, 2013 at 5:42 PM HST|Updated: Mar. 21, 2013 at 9:15 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell's ambitious road repaving plan hit a big bump today.  The plan that would've increased the gas tax by five cents a gallon failed to even make it past the first vote in the City Council.

The additional $15 million a year would have gone to repave nearly half of the city's roads and restore bus cuts. Instead it is fueling discussion for alternative ways to raise money.

"Wear and tear on our cars from the roads is not free. This is a $78 bill for alignment of my car yesterday," said Carl Yee, Nuuanu resident, as he testified before the city council holding up the mechanic's bill.

Carl Yee is willing to pay a higher gas tax if it will keep the roads nice.

Mayor Caldwell also took the rare step to plead with council members to at least debate his proposed five cent a gallon gas tax increase.

"I believe it will be a tragedy if we just end up yanking the fuel tax proposal out, kill it today without the hearings that are necessary," said Kirk Caldwell, Honolulu Mayor.

But that's exactly what happened.  In another rare move the council voted 6-3 not to even let the fuel tax discussion have any additional hearings.

"It's hard for me to vote in favor of a five cent increase when I sat on this body for less than three years and I denied a one cent increase and you're telling me the economy has improved so significantly that now I can vote for a fivefold increase, that would be tough for me to sell to my constituents," said Ernie Martin, Honolulu City Council Chair.

"If we have the will to fix our roads, we better have the will to make sure we pay for it," said Breene Harimoto, Honolulu City Councilmember.

The gas tax would have raised an additional $15 million a year to help repave damaged roads and restore bus routes that were cut by the previous administration.

Council members say there are other ways to raise money including using money from vacant worker positions.

"A lot of these positions have been on the books not two or three years but five, six, seven years. To me I think the philosophy that this council has put forward is that if those positions were so vital they should have been filled very quickly," said Martin.

Ikaika Anderson also introduced a bill that would eliminate the gas tax altogether and replace it with another vehicle fee so electric and hybrid vehicles pay too.

"Everybody is paying their fair share whether they are driving a fossil fuel vehicle, or they are using an electric alternative powered vehicle everybody, under this model everyone pays their fair share," said Ikaika Anderson, Honolulu City Councilmember.

As for Mayor Caldwell's plan to repave almost half of the city's streets, He still plans to move forward.

"I'm not giving up. I think this is a worthy fight to engage in and I will continue to look for alternatives. We'll find the money to repave more roads and restore bus routes," said Mayor Caldwell. "Like anything in life how do you get to where you want to go unless you set a target to get there? I've set a target that I think is achievable. I didn't set this so I would fail. No mayor wants to fail in hitting their target."

After today the road to Mayor Caldwell's target will be a bit bumpier.

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