With rail resolution unlikely, Gov. Ige says extending Legislative session would be ‘a waste of time’

Could this Legislative session come to a close without a decision on rail’s future funding?

Gov. David Ige said Wednesday he will not extend the session, which adjourns Thursday, unless lawmakers can come together.

“I think it would be a waste of time. The Legislature, House and Senate, is too divided at this point in time. I don’t think it would be productive,” he said. “I think that any discussion of a special session is premature. There needs to be a plan about how we would fund, what can we afford and how will we fund it. I think it’s premature to have any conversations about a special session until that happens.”

Ige’s decision comes despite a written request from all four mayors in Hawaii:

“The Hawaii Council of Mayors respectfully requests that you extend the 2017 Regular Session of the Legislature pursuant to Article III, section 10 of the Hawaii State Constitution, to enable the Legislature to resolve the differences between SB1 183, SD2, HD2, SCD2 and SB 1183, SD2, HD2, HCD2. Article III, section 10 reads in relevant part:

‘…Any session may be extended for a total of not more than fifteen days. Such extension shall be granted by the presiding officers of both houses at the written request of two-thirds of the members to which each house is entitled or may be granted by the governor.'”

Lawmakers are at odds over Senate Bill 1183, which applies to the county surcharge on state tax, and would determine how rail would be funded on Oahu.

There are two different versions of the bill. The Senate wants to extend the general excise tax for another 10 years, while the House wants to extend the GET for one year, and raise the visitor-based Transient Accommodations Tax (TAT) one percent for 11 years, a change from the 2.75 percent initially proposed last week.

The governor noted that “the constitution does provide that the Legislature can extend itself, so certainly that would be their option.”

But even lawmakers seem to have lost hope in coming up with a compromise. They say it is better to let the Legislative session end without a proposal to fund the rail.

“I don’t foresee coming up with a solution in the next 24 hours. It’s unfortunate we’ve come to this point, but I personally feel it is the right thing to do,” said Sen. Kaialii Kahele of Hilo. “The public should not be happy we’ve been in session for 60 days and 96 days since opening day, and we have not been able to come up with a solution for this project.”

There seems to be less urgency from the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation’s interim executive director. When asked earlier if lawmakers don’t come up with the funding proposal this session, Krishniah Murthy said, “We have time. Our schedule permits it. Right now, the City Center guideway is not due for awarding the contract until the middle of next year. So we do have some room in there, but not too much.”

Ige also says he’s willing to wait it out. He adds that he’s open to the solution they agree on, raising the hotel room tax or extending the GET.

“I think that should be a combination of state funds, of county funds and private funds is the best way that can give us a transit system that we can afford,” he said.

We reached out to the Federal Transit Administration and asked whether this could harm the project in any way, but have yet to receive a response.

The governor also highlighted issues lawmakers were able to agree upon, such as increases to pension payments, wages, affordable housing funds, and early education.

“We entered the budget preparation process 12 months or so ago with a robust growth projected and wanting to make strategic investments in different areas,” he said. “Just to put thing in context, the current projection is $800 million less than when we started preparation of our budget, so clearly it was a challenge on many different fronts.”

Once the session adjourns, Ige has 45 days to review the bills and decide whether to sign them into law, veto them, or let them become law without his signature.

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