Thursday, March 17, 2011

Editorial: Raiding Rail Fund ‘Wrong-Headed’

What’s the saying…too many fingers spoil the pie? That’s what it looks like as State legislators attempt to grab a couple hundred million dollars from the Honolulu rail project’s tax fund.

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser editorializes today it’s a bad idea on many levels. For starters, there’s no money to grab. Mayor Peter Carlisle notes that most of the $621 million in the rail fund already is obligated.

But more importantly, do we really want to slam the door with a cake in the oven and perhaps make it fall? Cakes or pies, messing with the rail project at this late date would be "wrong-headed" – the editorial’s word.

One of the current rail project’s first major accomplishments five years ago was putting the local funding mechanism in place. A 0.5-percent increase in the general excise tax on Oahu has been dedicated to rail since January 2007, demonstrating to Federal officials that Honolulu has its act together, unlike in 1992. Surely you remember the City Council’s 4-5 vote on the local tax increase.

So now, with a Record of Decision already received from the Federal Transit Administration, some in the Legislature want to “borrow” a couple hundred million (that’s not there) and pay it back to the City by issuing general obligation bonds, which bear interest that everyone in the state would be paying. That's another legitimate objection; neighbor islanders would be paying for Honolulu rail.

Passing the bill that's now moving in the Legislature would be the wrong message to send to Washington, where faith in the local commitment to build rail could be severely challenged if SB 1426 were to become law.

Better that all Hawaii residents urge their representatives at the capitol to drop this wrong-headed idea and quietly tip-toe out of the kitchen. Let the rail cake bake. We can almost taste it.

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