Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Mayor Says Transit Tax Can’t Be Raided by State; Labor Pact Secured, Another Rail Hurdle Cleared

The latest news about the Honolulu rail project is sure to fire up the opponents and prompt all sorts of vitriol. With Mayor Mufi Hannemann’s announcement today that a Project Labor Agreement with the trade unions has been sealed, the anti-rail crowd must sense that their opposition is being overtaken by events.

Nov. 18 Update: The Honolulu Star-Bulletin sees a more significant development in the Mayor's news conference -- that the signing of a construction contract with Kiewit Pacific for Phase 1 formally encumbers rail transit funds raised by the increased excise tax and protects them from a raid by the State. The Advertiser reporter either missed that critical angle entirely or simply chose to ignore it; either way, readers of his story aren't getting the whole picture.

The newspapers’ online comments sections will be their forum tonight and again tomorrow, and we recommend staying away unless you have time to waste and nothing better to do – in which case, we offer our sympathies. Our views on the Comments section were recorded here a few days ago.

Signing the PLA is significant because it eliminates the potential for strikes and other labor disputes that could interfere with the timely construction of rail. It’s only smart to have that in place, and we can imagine the enthusiasm among trades workers that this project is the way out of their personal economic straits.

The latest news on Hawaii’s tourism industry released just today shows that the stimulus to the economy rail will provide is needed more than ever. Visitor spending is off $1.4 billion in 2009, and the State forecasts a 12.6-percent reduction in visitor spending for the entire year.

All of which will trigger more stories in the Honolulu Advertiser’s news hole about the reduction in rail tax revenues – a fixation with the obvious that borders on strange. It would be refreshing to see stories about what the economic impact will be when rail construction starts early next year.

On the Move

The Mayor’s other announcement today keeps the focus on next steps. A Request for Proposals will be issued tomorrow seeking bids to build Phase 2 of the project from Pearl Highlands to Aloha Stadium. The expectation around City Hall is that the winning bid likely will be lower than originally forecast, which was the case when Kiewit Pacific won the contract to build Phase 1.

Rail is on the move, which has to please the solid majority of Oahu residents who support rail. The others will make their noise, but rail most definitely is on the move.

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