Councilmembers, HART unaware rail money in jeopardy

Some Honolulu City Councilmembers say they’re feeling threatened and pressured after learning a big chunk of federal money for rail is being withheld.

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell met with Federal Transit Administration officials in Washington, D.C.

In a news release, the mayor said federal officials want to make sure there’s enough money from the city to build rail. So they’re withholding the next allotment for the project — $250 million out of $1.5 billion — until the Honolulu City Council approves the general excise tax (GET) surcharge extension.

“How did you hear about that allotment possibly being in jeopardy?” KHON2 asked.

“I read the mayor’s press release. Otherwise I wouldn’t have known,” said Honolulu City Councilmember Ann Kobayashi.

“My initial reaction is why wouldn’t they call either the chairman or call somebody from the council to have a discussion?” said Honolulu City Councilmember Joey Manahan.

KHON2 also talked to a Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation spokesperson, who said the FTA has not reached out to HART and officials were not aware the money was in jeopardy.

In the mayor’s press release, he said it’s “critical” that the extension of five years is passed.

“Do you feel rushed in making this decision?” KHON2 asked.

“Definitely. I feel rushed. I feel threatened. It’s like, make this decision now or you won’t get your next payment,” Kobayashi said.

“Do you think this is just another pressure tactic?” KHON2 asked.

“I’m not sure what the mayor is thinking by doing this, but that’s how I perceived it,” Manahan said.

Councilmember Brandon Elefante supports the extension.

“Withholding the federal money from the FTA sends a clear signal to us that we have to take action on extending the GET surcharge,” he said.

KHON2 reached out to the mayor’s office several times today to ask the mayor about the FTA meeting, as well as the lack of communication and pressure tactic councilmembers were talking about.

He agreed, then canceled.

Councilmembers say taxpayers will be greatly affected by their vote and it’s a decision that cannot be rushed. They have until next summer to decide.


The following is the mayor’s press release (as written):

Mayor Caldwell meets with FTA and HUD officials in Washington

Honolulu – Mayor Kirk Caldwell met yesterday with officials from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in Washington, D.C. to discuss rail and homelessness.

The FTA officials wanted to make clear to Mayor Caldwell and members of the City Council that they need assurance that there will be sufficient funding from the City and County of Honolulu to build the full 20-mile rail line from East Kapolei to Ala Moana. To this end, the FTA is withholding the next allotment of $250 million (out of the $1.55 Full Funding Grant Agreement) until the Honolulu City Council approves the 5-year General Excise Tax (GET) surcharge extension.

“They suspect [the shortfall] will be more than $910 million, and they want to see the full 5-year extension of the GET surcharge granted by the council,” said the Mayor. “To this end, they are withholding the next allotment of $250 million in federal funding pending this approval to let HART and City Council know that they need action done for the full 5 years. Until that’s done, they don’t want to turn over any more money for the project.”

In response to a tentative proposal from Council Chair Ernest Martin to forego the federal funding in order to gain more local flexibility, the Mayor indicated that he wants the full federal funding.

“For me as mayor, I want that money from the federal government,” said Mayor Caldwell, “This is $1.55 billion worth of funds that we absolutely need, and we don’t want to go back to our population and say that you need to pay 100% instead of accepting the $1.55 billion. It’s critical that we pass the surcharge extension of 5 years that the FTA is waiting for.”

Mayor Caldwell also met with HUD, which praised the City and County of Honolulu for being one of 25 cities in America to accept the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness by the end 2015. While Honolulu is on target to meet that goal, Mayor Caldwell requested 55 additional Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) vouchers to house the remaining veterans experiencing homelessness on O‘ahu.

Mayor Caldwell returns to Honolulu on Sunday, November 14.

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