Council approves GET surcharge extension to fund troubled rail system

Updated: Sep. 6, 2017 at 9:50 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Honolulu City Council on Wednesday approved extending Oahu's general excise tax surcharge to help bail out the rail project.

The move comes a day after Gov. David Ige signed a bailout bill into law.

Before passing Bill 45, council members questioned the interim chief of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation. Krishniah Murthy said nearly 60 percent of the project has been constructed or awarded. Rail officials are sticking with their cost estimate of $8.165 billion, excluding financing costs.

"From everything I've seen up until this point, I believe it's a good number and we should be able to deliver the project at or below that number," said Andrew Robbins, HART's new CEO.

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell thanked council members for voting to extend Oahu's half-percent excise tax surcharge through 2030.

"It's not a popular thing to do, but it is absolutely the correct thing to do for the future of this island," he said.

On Tuesday, Governor Ige signed the state's rail bailout bill into law to generate an extra $2.4 billion in funding. In addition to the GET surcharge extension, the measure increases the hotel room tax statewide from 9.25 percent to 10.25 percent for the next 13 years. The law also requires a state audit and annual reviews of HART.

"This latest bailout will also add a great deal of transparency and the audit, I think it will bring, I hope, a lot more confidence," said council member Ann Kobayashi.

HART's financial recovery plan must be sent to the Federal Transit Administration by Sept. 15.

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