Mayor’s stress test claim ‘evaporated’ as FTA reaffirms half-billion pad not required

Always Investigating has been tracking the “stress test” debate and the mayor’s shortfall claim since it came up last week. The mayor says he and HART didn’t have long to analyze the special session draft bill. But they crunched numbers that threw another huge shortfall into the mix, something the mayor warned lawmakers about just before the session kicked off.

The mayor wrote last week the rail bailout bill left a “gap somewhere between $600 million and $900 million” and wrote “the largest portion of the funding gap” was a $548 million dollar construction stress contingency he said “the FTA requires…as part of the recovery plan” due Sept. 15.

Lawmakers questioned the math and the requirement, and the mayor told KHON2 on Monday he hadn’t talked to FTA about it either before or after making the claim.

An FTA spokesperson told Always Investigating on Monday it “wasn’t familiar with” the half-billion dollar figure, that there was not a requirement for any pad, just the difference between the old cost and the $8.165 billion rail was last pegged at. They also explained the concept of stress test is a revenue analysis anyway, not a cost add on. (See full FTA statement)

A mayor’s spokesperson would not answer us whether the mayor’s position changed in light of FTA’s statement, saying they’d have to “verify it directly.”

Rep. Colleen Hanabusa did so with top FTA and U.S. Department of Transportation brass Wednesday morning, the mayor telling lawmakers at today’s hearing he still had not talked to the FTA. Lawmakers asked the mayor “what now,” with the stress test requirement debunked, yet the mayor stood by the need for a pad and said a shortage could still become true.

An exchange between the mayor and Rep. Matt Lopresti illustrates the tone of many lawmakers’ questions at Wednesday’s hearing:

  • LOPRESTI: “Three of my colleagues so far and myself now are trying to give you a chance to compromise with the reality of the situation, that claim, that justification for money has evaporated, and we’re trying to give you an out to adjust your numbers and you’re not doing that. It strains your credibility sir.
  • CALDWELL: So there is enough money in this bill as hart is going to testify or has testified to submit a plan that will get the project to Ala Moana, based on the assumptions of this body, a TTA growth rate of 8%, the fact that the city and county is going to pay in $430 million out of operating money of some sort, and a GET growth rate of whatever percent. The FTA is going to get a recovery plan and as part of it is a financial plan….they will get that plan, they will hire a 3rd party to look at the plan and they will make a determination as to whether stressed there’s sufficient funding to build the project. The question is then asked if not where will that additional money come from.
  • LOPRESTI: That is not the same thing as requiring to have the money in hand, yes or no, not the same thing?
  • CALDWELL: As you may recall early in the week I asked if the legislature, if this were to become true, would step up and work with us to cover this shortfall and if that were the case I would have no concern. Rep. Lopresti, I am trying to avoid what happened 2 years ago when I accepted the numbers provided by HART…
  • LOPRESTI: And we accepted your numbers and frankly I’ve said before and I’ll say again I felt like I was lied to and frankly. I mean we’re giving you opportunity after opportunity to adjust and correct and amend the demands for more money which you came out the day before the bill dropped and said you need $500 million more. Now you’re still not adjusting that and frankly with all due respect I don’t believe you anymore, and you’ve been given so many opportunities to come in and i think work with us from the same figures, use the same figures, it’s disappointing in the extreme

For its part, HART is sticking with just what the FTA ordered, and told KHON2 this week: “HART will not include the 10% stress test figure in its September 15th recovery plan.”

The mayor said today multiple times he’s just trying to be wary of a shortfall whether from taxes that grow too slowly, or costs that grow too fast, since all the cost hike estimates have never yet been high enough. He’s saying if a pad is not included in the bill, he’d want the door to stay open for more future extensions.

FTA Statement to Always Investigating, Monday 8/28

“FTA is awaiting the submittal of the September 15 financial plan that should detail the funding plan and the resource streams/contributions that will cover the delta between the original submitted plan and the revised estimated total project cost. Once received, FTA will examine the assumptions made within the finance plan to determine its reasonableness.

“FTA is not familiar with the $548 million figure. That appears to be a number provided by the Mayor.

“The stress test should be interpreted as examining the ability to fund the project if revenues are less than anticipated. To date, FTA has not received details of the finance plan for analysis.”

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