Cayetano to Trump: Rail doesn't deserve 'a single dollar' from feds

Cayetano to Trump: Rail doesn't deserve 'a single dollar' from feds
Published: Apr. 21, 2017 at 10:04 AM HST|Updated: Apr. 21, 2017 at 5:19 PM HST
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Former Gov. Ben Cayetano (Image: Hawaii News Now)
Former Gov. Ben Cayetano (Image: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Former Gov. Ben Cayetano is urging President Donald Trump to cut funding for Honolulu's embattled rail project, arguing that cost estimates are the some of the highest in the world.

In a full-page ad in Friday's Washington Post, Cayetano sharply criticized the project, saying: "Honolulu's rail project does not deserve a single dollar from the federal government."

In the ad, Cayetano introduced himself as a lifelong Democrat who opposed Trump's candidacy, but said he agrees with him when it comes to "scrutinizing wasteful spending on pork barrel projects."

"It is the most mismanaged project I've ever seen," he said. "It's obsolete. I think in ten years. You might even consider tearing it down."

Cayetano said the Federal Transit Administration should terminate the Full Funding Grant Agreement with the City and County of Honolulu and use the remaining $800 million designated for the project on a "worthy transit project."

Political experts say the tactic could work if the president wants to punish Hawaii.

"It gives the Republican Trump Administration an excuse of what it already would like to do," said University of Hawaii Political Science Professor Colin Moore. "The Trump administration is known to be vindictive and Hawaii has been in the news lately opposing President Trumps executive order on immigration ... and this follows on the heels of Jeff Sessions comments that were criticized by our congressional leadership."

The ad comes as rail leaders are preparing a recovery plan for the FTA in order to secure more funding for the project. That's due at the end of April.

It also comes as Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell announced he is introducing a bill to the City Council to extend the rail tax surcharge beyond 2027. At the bare minimum, Caldwell said the general excise tax needs to be extended to 2037 or there will be increases in property taxes and cuts to city services.

Estimates for rail's costs have ballooned from a little more than $5.2 billion in 2014 to as much as $10 billion with interest, according to more recent figures.

In a statement Friday, Mayor Kirk Caldwell said voters have supported rail in several election cycles.

"I remain focused on working really hard to extend the city's half-percent rail surcharge for at least another 10 years," he said. "This will allow the country's first driverless train to reach all the way to Ala Moana Center and ensure a viable project. That's what the people of O'ahu expect, and that's what I'm concentrating on."

The ad also mentioned the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, who was chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and how the project only exists because the Federal Transit Administration buckled under his pressure.

Cayetano concluded by saying he met Trump in 1998 when his Miss Universe pageant was held in Honolulu, and recalled him commenting on the beauty of the city.

"If built, this will change the beauty and ambiance of the city forever," Cayetano said.

The ad, which was paid for by the Abigail Kawananakoa Foundation, cost nearly $90,000, sources say.

The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation sent this statement to Hawaii News Now in response to the ad:

It's unfortunate that, as all recent polls show, more than 60% of isle residents want to see us finish the rail project and complete it all the way to Ala Moana Center, (and) that the ex-governor and other rail opponents would take out such an ad.

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