Council: Bus funds can't be used for rail

10pm report. Council: Bus funds can't be used for rail
Published: Feb. 19, 2015 at 12:13 AM HST|Updated: Feb. 19, 2015 at 1:24 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Honolulu City Council has voted to place city bus funds off limits for the rail transit project.

Due to increased construction costs, delays and lower tax revenues, the price tag for the rail transit project has balloon by $500 million to $700 million.

More than $200 million in federal bus and Handivan funds were included by the rail project's financial plan and were encumbered by the project.

"The mere fact that we need to find $700 million just to finish the project. I think it makes it more imperative that we remove the (bus) funds because if you don't, that in fact becomes a funding source," said City Council Chair Ernie Martin.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell is urging the state Legislature to extend Oahu's half-percent rail tax hike past the original end date of 2022 to pay for the overruns.

"We're in the worst-case scenario. Never thought we'd be here," said Caldwell.

At least one councilmember is skeptical. "They keep saying we're going to extend the tax or construction, and then it became operating and maintenance, and now they're going to have to use it for the bus moneys," said Ann Kobayashi.

Others think\ the city should stop paying the state the ten percent administrative fee for collecting the rail tax.

"One place that we can start to replace the money is from the ten percent skim -- or steal -- that is taken from the general excise tax surcharge by the state," said Council member Ikaika Anderson.

"We have always in the past said the cost overrun would be at least two billion dollars," said longtime rail critic Cliff Slater. "If they (lawmakers) would do their homework now I think they'd see the same thing."

Bus riders and Handivan users applauded the move.

"You can't rob Peter to pay Paul. Yes there's the rail but a lot of people depend on the bus and the Handivan," said Barbra Armentrout.

Just one council member voted against the measure.

"I'd like to hear from our federal officials before moving forward with this and see if removing the $210 million will perhaps jeopardize the process," said City Council member Brandon Elefante.

Four city council members will meet with those federal officials next week to discuss alternative funding sources.

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