Governor to explore possibility of special session for rail


On Wednesday, the Honolulu City Council gave the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation access to enough bond money to pay rail bills through next summer.

But that still doesn’t resolve where billions more in funding will come from.

Now, Always Investigating has found that the governor is ready to step up his role.

To reconvene or not was the question when the 2017 legislative session ended short-handed on a rail funding extension to cover billions more in cost hikes.

One of the major road blocks for a special session: a state House and Senate miles apart on what to tax — from hotels to groceries — and absent the answer of who would orchestrate a meeting of the minds anytime prior to next regular session.

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell says it needs to happen soon to free up nearly $800 million in federal money.

“We need a special session if we’re going to address our funding challenges,” Caldwell said.

The governor says he’ll be taking the role of coordinator to see if there’s enough alignment now, or if the issue will have to wait for later.

His office told Always Investigating: “The governor intends to get the parties together to discuss the matter.”

However, lawmakers still need to be in a mood to negotiate: “Until they are closer to an agreement it’s not feasible to have a special session.”

“I hope they do it soon. I am worried the (Federal Transit Administration) is watching and they expected a full recovery plan,” Caldwell said.

The city submitted a recovery plan more than a month ago, but it did not include a source of money to get past downtown Honolulu. The FTA has been silent ever since and is keeping nearly $800 million of its grant share frozen.

“The clock is ticking and at some point, they are going to stand up and say something. It probably will not be positive, and so I do think time is of the essence,” said Caldwell.

Cash is getting tight without the federal money flowing. Using hundreds of millions in city bonds does cover costs into the middle of next year, which is past the next regular legislative session.

“We will get through next summer, but some of the projects we want to issue, we will not be able to issue,” said Krishniah Murthy, interim HART executive director.

Contracts for anything beyond Middle Street stop in their tracks, and costs rise.

“Every year of delay, if you believe what Jones Lang LaSalle says, is about $114 million more in increased cost. Delay is not good for rail, and I’m hoping there will not be further delay and that we’ll get down to the hard decisions that need to be made and continue to build the project,” Caldwell said.

The governor intends to include Caldwell in the meeting with capitol leadership, a date which has not yet been set.

Whether hotel taxes would be brought up again, more city-sourced funds, or just extending the existing excise surcharge remains to be discussed.

“As mayor, all we’re asking is for the legislature to give us the authority, not their money, but their authority to extend a county surcharge on their GET,” Caldwell said, “and then allow us to make the tough decision in both the council voting to extend the surcharge another 10 years.”

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