Legislature Adjourns Without a Rail Funding Solution

May 5, 2017

Senate President Ron Kouchi convenes the 25-member body.
Credit Wayne Yoshioka

State lawmakers adjourned today ending a contentious session with no solution on how to fund Honolulu’s rail transit project.   HPR’s Wayne Yoshioka reports.    

Senate President Ron Kouchi told the 25-member body that their   proposed bill to extend the half-a-percentage General Excise Tax surcharge to fund Honolulu’s Rail Transit Project was rejected by the House of Representatives.

“Member, we do not have a bill that matches the House.  I know you will hopefully join me in being prepared to come back in special session, if that’s required, if we can find a path where we can come to some sort of agreement but with a lack of agreement at this time, if there are no objections, I’m recommitting Senate Bill 1183 conference draft two.”

(L-R) GOP Representative Gene Ward voices his opposition to Majority Floor Leader Cindy Evans and Vice Speaker John Mizuno.
Credit Wayne Yoshioka

The measure can be taken up again if there’s Senate and House have an agreement and a special legislative session could be called to pass the measure.   Otherwise, it will have to wait until the Legislature convenes in January.  Senate Ways and Means Committee chair, Jill Tokuda, also addressed her colleagues.   She said there will be leadership changes in the Senate and she wanted to thank everyone for her last 3 years, especially her WAM staff.

“To my ways and means team, you know honestly, the hardest part of this whole reorg, was that I’d have to part ways with all of you.  The late nights, the stress, the begging for money, people complaining asking, for all of this, I can totally get rid of all of that, honestly.  And I pass it on to whoever who comes next.  But, my WAMILY, I can’t figure out how to part with.  That’s the hardest part.”

Tokuda also reaffirmed she is ready to serve in the Senate in any capacity.   Meanwhile, House Speaker Joe Souki resigned his leadership position.  The House of Representatives convened, with Souki absent, and were asked to pass a resolution appointing Majority Leader Scott Saiki as the new House Speaker.   Representative Marcus Oshiro, who resigned his position as Policy Leader, opposed the resolution.

“Here we are on the last day of the session, probably making one of the most important decisions as a collective body, on who to select as a leader amongst leaders, as the Speaker of the State House of Representatives.  And we have many, many questions, Mr. Speaker.”

But, the House passed the resolution 39-to-9 with 3 members excused.   Following the floor vote, newly appointed House Speaker Saiki explained the leadership change.

New House Speaker Scott Saiki talks to media representatives.
Credit Wayne Yoshioka

“The speaker resigned this morning as a result of a request that we elect a new speaker.  That request basically came from a majority of the House Democratic Caucus.  I think that’s the general feeling was that it was time for new leadership in the house.”

The House version of the rail funding bill proposes raising the Transient Accommodation or Hotel Room tax, extending the GET and returning most of the state’s share, to raise 1.7 billion dollars for the rail project.   House Speaker Saiki admits they are far from an agreement with the Senate.

“Emotions have run very high on the rail issue.  Our position is that we need a cooling off period before the House and Senate get together to try to resolve this.  So I don’t see any immediate actions  to be taken on rail.”

For HPR News, I’m Wayne Yoshioka.