As lawmakers gear up for special session on rail, new ad campaign seeks to guide them

As lawmakers gear up for special session on rail, new ad campaign seeks to guide them
Published: Aug. 15, 2017 at 9:27 PM HST|Updated: Aug. 16, 2017 at 6:53 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - As lawmakers grapple with how to pay for a $3 billion shortfall for Honolulu's rail project, supporters are trying to influence them with a new survey and public relations campaign.

Two unions, the masons union and the laborers union, paid for the survey and are part of a new group called Friends of Rail that's pushing for support.

All this as lawmakers prepare for a possible special session on rail funding on August 28th.

Friends of Rail is launching a new multimedia ad campaign highlighting its survey, which says 71 percent of Oahu residents support completing the rail to Ala Moana Center.

"The information we want to provide is there to help public officials make their decisions during the special session," said Emmanuel Zibakalam, board member for Friends of Rail.

"The perception is that everybody is against the rail. That's not the case," said Peter Ganaban of the Laborers International Union of North America Local 368.

But the June survey also indicates that support is fragile, especially since the project is over-budget and has struggled with management issues.

Union leaders are frustrated with lack of leadership.

"They are playing politics with this. Definitely. Everybody is pointing fingers on why this budget, why is it costing so much for the rail," said Peter Iriarte, of the Operative Plasterers & Cement Masons Local 630.

Meanwhile, some 62 percent of respondents said they supported extending the general excise tax increase another 10 years to help fund rail.

"They should just focus on one thing build the rail and build it now," said Iriarte.

Even though the unions are against increasing the hotel room tax, respondents in the survey were roughly divided and Gov. David Ige is neutral.

"I support either option. The most important is that we provide the funds necessary to successfully complete the project," said Ige.

The survey also shows 26 percent of respondents who supported rail now have concerns.

"It probably provides more evidence that public sentiment on this project is decreasing and that's the sense that legislators have been getting over the past few months," said House Speaker Scott Saiki.

Saiki believes either way, lawmakers won't get voted out because of this issue.

Besides the unions, Friends of Rail isn't saying what business groups or individuals are in its organization and Zibakalam said he doesn't know how much has been spent on the PR campaign.

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