Lawmakers seek to reassure feds with pledge to hold special session on rail funding shortfall

Lawmakers seek to reassure feds with pledge to hold special session on rail funding shortfall
Published: Jun. 19, 2017 at 2:10 PM HST|Updated: Jun. 19, 2017 at 5:16 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - More than two months after lawmakers wrapped up the legislative session with no deal on how to fund Oahu's beleaguered rail project, state lawmakers are trying to reassure the federal government that they'll hold a special session on the issue by August.

State Senate President Ronald Kouchi and House Speaker Scott Saiki informed the Federal Transit Administration in a letter that they were committed to convening a special session this summer.

"At this time the specific dates of a special session have not been agreed upon, nor have the Senate and the House agreed to the specific content of a bill that will be introduced in a special session," said Saiki.

Added Kouchi: "As long as we're talking that's always a good sign. I'm hopeful that we can find some common ground on this issue."

In the letter Saiki and Kouchi said that, "after working with members of our federal delegation, it was deemed necessary and prudent to assure the FTA that the Legislature recognizes and understands the requirements under the Full Funding Grant Agreement" between the city and the agency.

A five-day special session will likely cost taxpayers about $27,000.

In a statement, Mayor Kirk Caldwell said he was happy to hear about the special session.

He said the city and the rail transit authority "have provided lawmakers with the most current financial estimates about the project, and stand ready to assist them in their deliberations."

In early May, state lawmakers wrapped up the legislative session without reaching a deal on how to fund the project.

The Senate supported the Mayor's plan to extend the half a percent rail excise surcharge ten more years while the House wanted to increase hotel room tax. It now looks like some increase in the hotel tax is likely.

"After the (excise tax), the room tax is a big source of potential revenue so it would be something that would have to be seriously considered in a special session," Saiki said.

In its recovery plan filed with the Federal Transit Administration, the city reiterated its goal to complete the 20-mile project all the way to Ala Moana Center.

The plan was required by the FTA after the project's costs soared from $5.8 billion to $8.2 billion. Including financing costs, the project is estimated to cost as much as $10 billion.

The rail's current budget is about $6.8 billion.

In the recovery plan, rail officials say building the project to its current budget, or Plan B, will get the project as far as Aloha Tower. This Plan B, however, could result in a 37 percent to 60 percent reduction in ridership.

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