It’s time for Hawaii’s political leadership to face reality: we need to finish building our rail system. It’s past time for Gov. David Ige to demonstrate leadership by calling the Legislature into a special session — immediately — so we can pass an extension of the GET surcharge and get the rail completed.
If we fail to act now to provide stable funding, this project is going to cost all of us more money—a lot more. We need a special session now. Not to debate rail, not to consider other taxes, not for more talk about other transit options, but to take action: pass the extension now, and complete the project.
The numbers are compelling. In construction, like any business, time is money. For every month that passes while we fail to act, the rail project’s price tag inflates by ten to fifteen million dollars. Why? Because it delays everything—bids are not tendered, land is not acquired, and contracts are not signed.
We have only 4 miles to go. The obstructionists still think they can kill the rail project with a thousand paper cuts, but they need to face the stark reality of our situation. We have already finished 16 miles, and if we don’t finish those last 4 miles, Honolulu will have to pay the federal government over $800 million. Honolulu will forfeit another $700 million in transit funding on top of that.
We can’t afford to be distracted by schemes like raising the hotel tax by a whopping 30 percent (and killing numerous jobs in the process). Or by giving up and stopping the line at Middle Street. Or the fanciful panacea of running the line at grade. Any changes to the planned route require a new EIS, and that means a new round of lawsuits, more delays, and ultimately more costs.
Nobody in the Legislature dislikes taxes and fees more than I do. But I support finishing this project, and the best option is to extend the GET surcharge. We’re already paying it, and the sky isn’t falling. We need to reduce the skim to the state to 1 percent and continue the GET surcharge for a minimum of 10 years.
Without an extension, Honolulu may have to raise property taxes to meet its obligations. Ironically, if that happens, the anti-railers living in wealthy enclaves will end up paying even more.
By failing to act, we risk losing the bountiful harvest of economic and environmental benefits that the rail project will bring. It’s not just for West Oahu — every community will be served by a fast, efficient system. Entire communities will be revitalized and grow, with shops, restaurants and condominiums springing up along the line. The rail should be built from Kapolei to Ala Moana, and ultimately to UH Manoa so we can maximize our investments in transportation and education.
We have the ability to get it done and we have a funding mechanism to pay for it. The only thing we lack is the necessary political courage to lead the way. It’s past time for the Governor and the Legislature to do the right thing. Extend the GET surcharge now.
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