A former Hawaii governor is asking President Donald Trump to cut all federal funding to Honolulu’s rail project.
In a full-page ad that appeared in Friday’s “Washington Post,” former Gov. Ben Cayetano made his case, proposing that the Federal Transit Administration terminate its Full Funding Grant Agreement with the City, with roughly $800 million left to be paid out.
He wrote: “Honolulu’s rail project does not deserve a single dollar more from the federal government. It has become a poster boy for how politics, incompetence, disinformation and outright lies are at the root of wasteful rail projects which do little for the public except raise taxes.”
In an interview Friday, Cayetano told KHON2, “I said, I’m not in office anymore. I don’t have much clout so to speak. I’m going to write to the president, and that’s how the idea came up.”
The former governor says he thinks tax dollars would be better spent elsewhere, and says extending the general excise tax for the next 10 years to pay for rail is a mistake.
“Since when did rail become the number-one priority for the state’s needs?” he said. “You could, according to the University of Hawaii, make community college free for $66 million a year.”
In a statement Friday, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said:
“The people of Oahu have now gone through three election cycles where rail was the issue of the day, and each time affirmed that rail should be completed as originally planned with 20 miles of guideway and 21 stations. In each of those elections, ads like the one that appeared in today’s Washington Post were paid for by those who oppose the project, as is their right under the First Amendment. I remain focused on working really hard to extend the city’s half-percent rail surcharge for at least another 10 years. This will allow the country’s first driverless train to reach all the way to Ala Moana Center and ensure a viable project. That’s what the people of Oahu expect, and that’s what I’m concentrating on.”
We asked political science professor John Hart whether or not the letter to the president could end up having any influence on the project going forward.
“The timing is interesting,” he replied. “Trump is already upset about a federal Hawaii judge stopping, for now, his immigration policy or his visa border checking. Now he has the opportunity to pay Hawaii back by stopping the real money.”
We reached out to the White House to find out if Trump saw the letter, but have yet to hear back.
The ad was paid for by the Princess Abigail K. Kawananakoa Foundation, and was also sent to the secretary of transportation.