Before special session on rail, lawmakers want to hear from you

Lawmakers seek input before holding special session on rail funding (7:30)
Published: Aug. 14, 2017 at 10:10 AM HST|Updated: Aug. 14, 2017 at 10:29 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Leadership from both the state House of Representatives and Senate have been meeting over the last several months to discuss the over-time and over-budget Honolulu rail project, but lawmakers now want to hear from the public as they work toward an agreement on financing.

House Speaker Scott Saiki says the main goal of Monday's informational hearing is to ensure greater accountability from the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation and the City and County of Honolulu -- both of whom are scheduled to present a financial update on current costs and the projected budget.

Senate President Ron Kouchi says legislators understand they need to come up with a solution to ensure rail doesn't lose the federal grant money it has already received.

Honolulu has a $1.55 billion funding deal with the Federal Transit Administration for rail -- but its massive cost and schedule problems have placed the city technically in breach of that contract.

Lawmakers were unable to reach a consensus on rail funding during the regular session.

The Senate supported Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell's plan to extend the half percent rail general excise tax surcharge on Oahu for 10 years, but the House wanted to increase hotel room taxes by 1 percent instead.

In July, state legislators were asked to make themselves available for a special session the week of Aug. 28 through Sept. 1 so they can hash out a deal to rescue Honolulu's cash-strapped rail project.

The concern from officials at both the state and county level is that the Federal Transit Administration won't wait for the Legislature to work out an agreement on financing during the 2018 session, but would likely revoke funding before then.

City officials were forced to file a recovery plan for the wildly-over budget project with the FTA back in early May, detailing alternative strategies on how HART can reconcile construction plans with available funding.

Including financing costs, the project – once estimated at $5.8 billion – is now estimated to cost as much as $10 billion including financing costs if all 20 miles and 21 stations are built from Kapolei to Ala Moana.

A special session is expected to cost taxpayers nearly $30,000 if it runs the required five-day minimum.

The hearing begins at 10 a.m. in the state Capitol auditorium.

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