Thursday, April 27, 2017


Editorial: Get the complete operating plan before approving any tax extension for Honolulu rail

Sen. Lorraine Inouye and Rep. Sylvia Luke spent the better part of 45 minutes in a testy back-and-forth argument about how far to extend the general excise tax surcharge to provide additional funding for a rail project that is far over budget and far behind schedule.

Inouye wants the GET surcharge to run 10 additional years until 2037, while Luke wants it to go only two years beyond its 2027 sunset date. Their differences reflect sharp disagreements among Senate and House leaders about rail funding and whether the surcharge extension should be used to fund other transportation projects.—Civil Beat, 4/26/17

by Larry Geller

The Honolulu rail project is not just “far over budget and far behind schedule.” It’s much worse than that. There is no plan that assures taxpayers they will be able to afford to use the service when it becomes available.

Until plans for maintenance and operations costs (including approximate fare required per ride), why not withhold funds and make the city sit down and finish the job of planning? Aren’t we as taxpayers owed that?

There is also no plan that guarantees that truly affordable housing will be built along the route, an important promised benefit.

Most people understand the need for planning. For example, assuming a person is not independently wealthy, does it make sense to just quit your job, pack up and move to a new city hoping to find a job? Some people can pull that off, others will end up homeless on the street.

For most people, saying “I like country music, so I should be in Nashville” doesn’t compute unless one can survive there. How much will it cost? How will I pay rent?

Because taxpayers are made to cough up the cost of rail construction does not mean we are each independently wealthy! So we need to have a plan to prevent financial disaster.

Yet disputes over financing Honolulu’s rail system continue, and the project advances inch by inch while still we have no idea what it will cost to use and maintain the system.

The people charged with planning either don’t know how to do it or have been deceptive. Remember the overhead power line fiasco? It was no secret that the high-voltage lines would have to be dealt with, and the cost should have been figured into the budget from day one. But it was either deliberately (my theory) or negligently omitted. Still, the bill will have to be paid.

Now, it is very reasonable to expect that before the first length of track is laid, before ground was even broken, that we taxpayers should have been told what it will cost to use the system. If it’s going to be cost-prohibitive, it should not be built. Period. It’s bad enough that it will serve so few riders because it doesn’t reach where people live or work on Oahu. It’s bad enough that it will blight the landscape.

This is not at all a criticism of mass transit for Honolulu. It is just that we should not be paying for this now or ever (much less through a regressive tax for the next 20 years) if we won’t be able to afford to use it.

Planning for operating the system not only isn’t complete, it may not have been started.

Perhaps the legislature should withhold additional funding until they have an audited, complete plan in hand. Then see if it should be funded.


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