Monday Council Hearing May Authorize $200 Million in Bonds for Heavy Rail

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BY SCOTT FOSTER – Beginning today, Monday May 2nd, the issue of the City selling General Obligation Bond (G.O.B.) debt is suddenly, starkly before us as Mayor Peter Carlisle continues to push the agenda. THIS IS OUR BEST BET FOR BEATING THE MONSTER RAIL IN COUNCIL. As Tom Coffman wrote earlier, “It is imperative that we bear down, focus and mobilize widely in the next two weeks.”

All along, the public has been led to believe that the 1/2 per cent excise tax and a Federal windfall of $1.5 billion would pay for this project. Now, this week, the City is about to leap into paying the coming year’s transit costs with debt in the form of general obligation bonds and a transfer of $176 million from the General Fund. The bills list $50 million from the federal government plus a second grant of potentially $30 million.


In other words, apparently – the City’s confusion does not make for clear reading – the vaunted $1.5 billion that became next year’s $250 million in the Federal Transit Budget has become a maximum of $80 million in the City Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) budget bills. With so little notice, the following is a lot to ask of our volunteers, but this is where we are:

On Monday May 2 at 2:30, the full Honolulu City Council will hold a Special Meeting to hear and take public comment on Bills 39, 40, and  41. The committee will then go into Executive Session. The agenda is HERE — with information about submitting your testimony and/or testifying in person. Note that to testify in person, one must sign up by 2:30 pm on Monday May 2nd.

Frankly, several of our best minds have been working to decipher this morass of bills, trying to boil our testimony down to some simple statements — which is impossible. Simply put, our message is “Vote no on Bills 39, 40 and 41 until the public has a better understanding of their implications.” If you can send in brief testimony in your own words or appear in person, great! If not, please consider at least phoning your own council member. See that contact info below.

As for Wednesday May 4: Wednesday is the day when ALL of these confusing issues come to a head: Bills 33, 34, 35, 39, 40, and 41, will all be heard — along with several proposed amendments further shifting money around. Time: 9 a.m. Place: City Hall, Committee Room. Bills 39, 40, and 41 were apparently devised by Budget Chair Ernie Martin to backstop in legalese the intent of Bills 33 and 34 — the actual budget enabling legislation now scheduled to be heard during the regular session of the Budget Committee at 9 am on Wednesday May 04.

The packed agenda and information about submitting your testimony and/or testifying in person is HERE. To testify in person, one must sign up by 9 am on Wednesday May 4th. Our message is again, “Stop the madness! This blizzard of confusing budget bills is being rushed through the process. Vote no on Bills 33, 34, 35, 39, 40, and 41 until the public has a better understanding of their far-reaching implications.”

Through Bills 39, 40 and 41, Budget Chair Ernie Martin required Carlisle’s Department of Transportation Services to produce a proposed budget for the new HART operations and CIP through FY 2012, the totals of which were $125 million from the City’s GET fund, $200 million from a proposed issue of General Obligation bonds AND $176 million from general funds. The complete 2012 HART budget is HERE.

Although the agenda is not yet posted, we anticipate that an additional public hearing for all of the above will take place during the scheduled Wednesday, May 11 Council meeting and we will keep you advised of that. This hearing could prove to be the most important of all.

Most salient immediate fact: In previous discussions, Ikaika Andersen of Windward has said he would vote no on G.O. Bonds.


Council members are beginning to feel a shift in opinion — a distaste and foreboding for this particular rail project. One refrain is, “We don’t have money for basics. Why are we spending a fortune on rail?” We are told that “phone calls to Council offices are being received with interest and/or trepidation.”

In addition to your testimony, please phone YOUR Council-member with the message, “I’m an active voter living in your district. Please vote NO on the proposed General Obligation Bonds for transit! It will bankrupt Honolulu.” Identify and locate contact information about YOUR City Council Member HERE.