(BIVN) – During day three of a special legislative session, the Hawaii State Senate passed a bill on third reading to provide funding to complete construction on the City and County of Honolulu’s rail transit project.
The senate issued the release following the 16 to 9 vote in favor of Senate Bill 4.
The bill was described by the senate in a news release:
SB4 addresses the City and County of Honolulu’s rail construction shortfall of $2.378 billion by extending the General Excise Tax on Oahu for three additional years through December 31, 2030 which will provide $1.046 billion. It also raises the Transient Accommodation Tax (TAT) by one percent to 10.25 percent for 13 years, to December 31, 2030. This will provide $1.326 billion. SB4 permanently increases the counties’ share of the TAT from $93 million to $103 million. The measure reduces the State Department of Taxation’s administrative fee on the GET surcharge from 10 percent to one percent. The measure creates a Mass Transit Special Fund to review and disburse funds to the city for its costs on the rail project. It also requires a state run audit of the rail project and annual financial reviews.
As expected, all four Big Island senators – Kai Kahele, Russell Ruderman, Josh Green, and Lorraine Inouye – cast a “no” vote.
Kona’s Senator Green, who has already announced plans to seek higher office next year, did most of the talking among them.
“Right now, families across Hawaii are wondering what we’re doing,” Green read on the senate floor. “Having a special session, raising taxes, spending billions of dollars on a project that may ultimately benefit only a few people, instead of working on so many other critical priorities.”
“Today I’m voting no on SB4,” Green declared, “because, as much as I want to see the rail project completed now that we have come this far, funding it should not come at the cost of neglecting all the other needs of Hawaii families.”
Sen. Green was even more animated in his second round of discussion. “I will not listen to long lists about how we’ve saved people,” the physician said in response to a list of positive initiatives funded by the legislature, read into the record by yes-vote Sen. Jill Tokuda. “When I’ve seen people die because we haven’t taken action.”
Voting “no” with the Hawaii Island senators: Roz Baker, Kalani English, Breene Harimoto, Gil Riviere, and Laura Thielen.
Sen. Thielen delivered some fiery remarks of her own on the senate floor. “We’re raising the TAT state-wide and we haven’t had a single hearing on a neighbor island,” Thielen said. “This session is five days long, to pass a bill that’s for $2 billion dollars? Give me a break!”
After the vote, Senate Bill 4 was transmitted to the State House of Representatives, which went to work right away, holding committee hearings.
The House Committees on Transportation and Finance advanced the bill after a long day of discussion. Transportation voted 4 to 2 in favor with one excused, and Finance voted 8 to 6 in favor of the bill with one excused, the house reported. Transportation members voting yes were: Henry Aquino, Nadine Nakamura, Joy San Buenaventura (with reservations), and Bob McDermott. Voting no were: Sean Quinlan and Tom Brower. Mark Hashem was excused.
House Finance members voting yes were: Sylvia Luke, Ty J.K. Cullen, Cedric Asuega Gates, Daniel Holt, Jarrett Keohokalole, Matt LoPresti, Nadine Nakamura and Kyle Yamashita. Voting no were: Romy Cachola, Bertrand Kobayashi, Lynn DeCoite, Nicole Lowen, Andria Tupola and Gene Ward. Beth Fukumoto was excused.
“By adding the hotel room tax to the mix, which provides and immediate cash flow to the project, we are saving taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars that would be spend on financing fees,” Rep. Aquino said.
During the long day at the capitol, Hawaii islanders kept on top of things through Hawaii County Council Chair Valerie Poindexter, who provided updates – and some political pressure – using Facebook.
The bill now moves to the full House for a vote on second reading tomorrow.