With rail CEO out, focus now on funding hurdles

State and city lawmakers weigh in on funding options for rail
Published: Aug. 19, 2016 at 3:07 AM HST|Updated: Aug. 19, 2016 at 4:24 PM HST
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City Councilman Brandon Elefante (Image: Hawaii News Now)
City Councilman Brandon Elefante (Image: Hawaii News Now)
State Rep. Gregg Takayama (Image: Hawaii News Now)
State Rep. Gregg Takayama (Image: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - With rail leader Dan Grabauskas on his way out, many are wondering what's next for the largest infrastructure project in state history.

The $8.1 billion project needs about $1.5 billion more to complete. So where should the money come from?

State and city leaders have different proposals.

"I've always been a supporter of the general excise tax," said City Councilman Brandon Elefante. "Right now that half of a percent of the G.E.T., with the sunset date of 2027, always believed it's something that we should be looking at in perpetuity."

The federal government has been clear that they aren't giving up any more money for the project.

But some state lawmakers say Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation needs to be more aggressive in asking.

"I think we seriously need to consider extending the tax surcharge, but only as a last resort," said state Rep. Gregg Takayama. "Only, as far as I'm concerned, only if city exhausts its attempts to get more money from the feds to pay for the rail, and only if the city aggressively seeks some kind of public-private partnership."

Later this month, city and rail leaders will travel to San Francisco to meet with the Federal Transit Administration to talk about their recovery plan for Oahu's rail project. There, HART officials plan to ask about a federal loan.

"That would be one of the things we would bring up with the FTA, is this loan program something that's available to us, is this something that HART and the city should pursue?" said HART spokesman Bill Brennan.

He added, "It's meant for projects, large projects like ours, that without those loans might have difficulty in finishing, or waiting for revenues or those kinds of delays and deferrals that our project is looking at right now."

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