House Speaker Saiki to FTA: State Legislative Leaders Committed to Resolving Rail Revenue Issue

Jun 19, 2017

House Speaker Scott Saiki to FTA: Hawaii Legislative Leaders are committed to resolving rail revenue issue
Credit Wayne Yoshioka

The Leaders of the State Legislature want federal officials to know they are committed to resolving the funding issue for Honolulu’s Rail Transit project.   But as HPR’s Wayne Yoshioka reports legislative support will be limited.   

“Rail is a city project.  It is not a state project.  And it is the city’s responsibility to provide the financing to complete this project.”

House Speaker Scott Saiki made it clear.  The City is responsible for completing the rail transit project.   And, the State House and Senate leaders are committed to resolving the revenue stream issue.

“Last Friday, Senate President Ron Kouchi and I signed and emailed a letter to the Federal Transit Administration in Washington, DC.  The letter states our intent to convene a special session to resolve the outstanding matter of rail financing.”

Senate President Ron Kouchi was at home on Kaua’i and could not attend the news conference.  Speaker Saiki says no specific dates have been agreed to for the special session and negotiations are ongoing.  Dates will be set when House and Senate members are closer to consensus.   But, Saiki says, a funding shortfall for the rail project cannot be met by the half-a-percentage point General Excise Tax surcharge.

“Between now and the year 2024, there will be a shortfall of $1.384 billion.  So every year between now and 2024, there is a shortfall, meaning that expenses exceed revenue in each of those years for a total of $1.384 billion.  And those are HART’s numbers.”

Speaker Saiki says the shortfall is for construction only, with inflation estimates included.  It does not include interest on debt service or discounts.  After 2024, construction costs will go down and revenue will be higher than expenses.  But, he says, lawmakers are faced with looking at other revenue sources now.

“Because there is a shortfall, and that’s over and above the current GET surcharge revenue that’s coming in, the point-five percent .  How do you make up for that?  Do you increase the GET again between now and 2024 or do you find another funding source.  The hotel room tax is a big source of potential revenue so it’s something that would have to be seriously considered in special session.”

Lawmakers will discuss the proposals with hotel industry leaders.  The minimum number of days for the proposed special session is 5-days:  to introduce, hear and vote on a bill in the House and Senate.  Additional days would be added for delays due to disagreements between the legislative bodies.  Wayne Yoshioka, HPR News.