Everything you need to know ahead of the rail funding special session

A special session starts on Monday for the proposal to bail out Honolulu’s rail project.

“Unfortunately one of the biggest disappointments with this bill is it has really divided the state,” said Rep. Sylvia Luke, chair of the House Finance Committee.

Luke is one of the brains behind the bill to save the rail. She says not everyone will be happy, but believes this is the best outcome.

This is what lawmakers came up with:

  • Increase the state’s hotel room tax by 1 percent, which will generate $1.32 billion, and
  • Extend Oahu’s existing general excise tax until 2030, for $1.04 billion.

The state will also permanently increase the counties share of hotel tax to $103 million from $93 million to make up for increasing hotel taxes.

Click here to view the latest version of the bill.

Two weeks ago, the Legislature held an informational meeting to hear from the public. Many wanted an audit, so lawmakers threw in a state-run audit into the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation’s past finances, management, and operations.

For added accountability, the state will create a mass transit fund from the tax money instead of giving it directly to HART.

“The confidence in this project is at an all-time low. If we want to finish this, we have to put in accountability and transparency into this project to make sure it’s successful,” said Luke.

Public testimony, written or oral, will be heard Monday, Aug. 28, in the State Capitol Auditorium starting at 3 p.m. (Details to submit comment are outlined at the bottom of this post.)

Written testimony may be submitted up to 24 hours prior to the start of the hearing.

“We still would like to hear from as many people as possible, either in writing or person, but they should be aware, each speaker is limited to two minutes,” said Sen. Gil Keith-Agaran, vice chair of the Ways and Means Committee.

“You can email, bring it by the Capitol, or fax it in. You can also show up on the day of and testify. You’ll be asked to sign in and register,” said public access coordinator Virginia Beck.

Protocol has testifiers called up in the following order: government officials, then organizations and businesses, and individuals. Registered testifiers will be assigned to a group and given a ticket, which will serve as an entrance pass into the hearing.

Anyone requiring auxiliary aids or services is asked to contact the committee clerk at least 24 hours prior to the hearing.

On Monday, the Ways and Means Committee will hear from the public.

Then, it goes to the Senate floor for a vote on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, they vote again before the bill crosses to the House, where representatives will hear public testimony.

Persons wishing to testify should submit testimony in one of the following ways:

  • Email:
  • In person: Deliver 1 copy of your testimony to the committee clerk, Room 208, State Capitol.
  • Fax: Testimony may be faxed if less than 5 pages in length, to 586-6951 or 1-800-586-6659 (toll free for neighbor islands).

All testimony received by the Hawaii State Senate is posted on the Hawaii Legislature’s website, which is accessible to the public. Please do not include private information that you do not want disclosed to the public.

While every effort will be made to incorporate all testimony received on time, materials received on the day of the hearing or improperly identified or directed, may be distributed to the committee after the hearing.

The Committee on Ways and Means would like to hear from as many individuals as possible. As such, and as a courtesy to those patiently waiting for their opportunity to address the Committee on Ways and Means, it is requested that each speaker limit their oral testimony to two (2) minutes. Per committee protocol, testifiers will be called up in the following order: government, organizations and businesses, and individuals.

Due to the anticipated high number of testifiers, those who plan to testify in-person including government officials, organizations, and individuals must register at the sign-in table at the entrance of the Auditorium. The registration table will open at 2 p.m. Registered testifiers will be assigned to a group and given a ticket to indicate one’s place on the testifier list and speaking order. This ticket will be your entrance pass into the hearing.

General seating for non-testifiers will be available on a first come first served basis. Additional viewing areas and seating will be made available in Conference Rooms 224, 225, and 211.

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