Aloha! Below is a commentary I wrote on the City rail transit authority's decision to rent luxury office space in downtown for $1.4 million per year, which was published in Pacific Business News on Friday.
This is the third in a series of editorials I authored on the need for fiscal responsibility at all levels of government. The first, published in Hawaii Reporter, focused on the East West Center and the critical need for a bi-partisan Hawaii congressional delegation that will work with both Republicans and Democrats. The second, published in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, highlighted concerns with the lack of fiscal responsibility at the Board of Water Supply that resulted in a proposed 70% increase in water rates on Oahu.
To me, good government means more than just saying what people want to hear. It means identifying problems that concern our community and proposing constructive solutions. We need to take an active interest in our government if we expect our government to be one worth having. If you have a concern about our government that you would like to share with me, I would appreciate hearing from you.
The late US Senator C. Everett Dirksen is credited with saying, in reference to the Federal budget, “a million here, a million there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.”
That quote is appropriate for the Honolulu rail project today. The disclosure that the newly formed Honolulu rail transit authority will spend close to $1.4 million in taxpayer funds for one year’s worth of rent for prime office space in downtown Honolulu adds to the growing sense that the authority has, at best, a cavalier attitude toward the spending of your money and misunderstands the reasoning for rail.
For starters, a government agency opting to spend nearly $1.4 million in annual rent is alone disturbing. This is a large sum of taxpayer money to expend for office rent in the middle of a slow economy and record unemployment. Keep in mind, this million-dollar plus price tag is not a one-time expenditure, but a recurring annual expense underwritten by the taxpayers.
If the enormous annual price tag for rent doesn’t concern you, the poor judgment by the rail transit authority in opting to rent premium Class A office space in downtown Honolulu should trouble you.
It is understandable that certain private firms, such as banks or law firms, whose businesses depend on impressing prospective clients, need to rent premium office space in downtown. There is no good reason why a government agency needs Class A office space in the most expensive part of downtown Honolulu. For the rail authority in particular, it not only doesn’t solicit clients, it will distribute billions of dollars of government contracts. My guess is that any prospective contractor, architect, or engineer would likely be only too happy to visit the rail authority wherever it is located to get a slice of the multi-billion dollar contracts.
For over a decade now, the City government has also adopted a policy to push private businesses to relocate and expand in West Oahu as a means of relieving congestion in downtown Honolulu. That the City's rail project has opted to ignore stated City policy and locate in downtown Honolulu undermines public confidence. Private businesses pushed by the City to locate away from downtown should legitimately question the City's double standard for itself and private enterprise.
Most troubling of all, however, is that the rail authority is undermining one of the principle reasons for rail by renting office space in downtown Honolulu. While I served on the Honolulu City Council, proponents of rail frequently cited to me the growth of West Oahu as a major justification for rail. Rail champions argued that rail is needed to support commerce in the growing Ewa plain and reduce demand on commuters converging on downtown. It is ironic that the government agency charged with building a rail system to spur commerce in West Oahu and reduce congestion in downtown Honolulu has chosen add to congestion by renting two entire floors for hundreds of employees in a premium office tower in downtown Honolulu.
The Honolulu City Council needs to exercise greater care and demand greater accountability over the spending of the people’s money on rail. Whether you support or oppose the rail project, everyone should agree that there is simply no good justification for wasting taxpayer resources.
I am still hopeful that the remarkable tone deafness on fiscal affairs shown by the City’s rail project managers improves. I am hopeful that greater community consensus is eventually built for rail by Honolulu Hale. I am still hopeful that funding and cost targets for building rail aren’t wildly off the mark. The decision by the rail authority to spend $1.4 million of your money annually on luxury office space in downtown, however, shows that my hopes are still not yet justified by experience.
Charles K. Djou
Member of Congress, 2010-2011
Hawaii, 1st District