BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – The Honolulu City Council passed bill 37 on the second of three scheduled readings last night after its monthly meeting that included several controversial items.

Bill 37 would allow the city to borrow as much as $450 million in commercial paper for its planned $5.3 billion elevated steel on steel rail project, something the city administration and the head of the rail authority, say is needed to strengthen the rail financial plan.

The bill passed on the second reading by a vote of 6 to 2. City Council Budget Chair Ann Kobayashi and Council member Tom Berg voted against the proposal, with Stanley Chang absent.

Mayor Peter Carlisle said at a January press conference that he would not need the $450 million unless – quote – the moon fell into the ocean.

So last night, Kobayashi reminded the administration of that, and said she would like to include in the bill that the city cannot use the $450 million unless the moon falls into the ocean.

Kobayashi is frustrated with the city’s many misrepresentations of the project, she said.

Kobayashi pointed out the city originally pledged to build the $5.3 billion elevated steel on steel rail without borrowing any funds or using funds other than GET revenue and federal funds.

But now the city will borrow up to $1.9 billion in city CIP funds, and use as much as $450 million in commercial papers, and $244 million from the bus and handivan maintenance and repair fund to finance the 20-mile system.

In addition, when the public voted to support the rail in 2008, the project was $3.7 billion and it would run from Kapolei through Salt Lake and to the University of Hawaii, but now it is $5.3 billion for just the first segment, which skips Salt Lake and ends far short of the University and Waikiki.

Council members were astonished to learn this week via a letter from HART CEO Dan Grabauskas that to build the entire rail system, from Kapolei to the University of Hawaii and Waikiki, will now cost taxpayers just over $9 billion.

Kobayashi and Berg both said they cannot burden city taxpayers with this debt.

Both Council Members Tulsi Gabbard and Romy Cachola voted yes with reservations, while Council Members Ernie Martin, Breene Harimoto, Nestor Garcia and Ikaika Anderson voted with strong support for the measure.

Several members of Go Rail Go attended the hearing, holding signs in support of the project.

This morning beginning at 9 a.m., the city council budget committee will meet on several funding proposals. Those include HART’s capital and operating budgets, the city administration’s operating budget and the issuance of up to $1.9 billion in bonds for the rail project.