HANG ON TO YOUR WALLETS
by Rep Ike Choy, (D-Manoa), Message to Constituents, August, 2017
The secret meetings are happening at the square building on Beretania Street. A close-knit group of legislative leaders are talking about rail behind closed doors and everyone else is kept wondering. If the funding of rail was all that was on the table it would be simple. Extend the county surcharge for ten years, the Federal Transit Authority will be happy. The project will continue with the least disruption. The extension would begin in 2028 and a lot can happen between now and then. Most constituents will grumble, but the status quo will be maintained, and nothing will change for ten years. We can watch how efficient or inefficient the rail managers will be and live without much controversy, at least for now.
They always say, “when the people are restless, government is not working well."
However, the simple solution is not the only consideration on the table. A glimpse of what is happening can be seen in the quote from an interview with Speaker Scott Saiki on NPR radio. Scott said,
“When the legislature is forced to increase the General Excise Tax to pay for rail, to pay for a city project, it really prevents future legislatures from increasing the General Excise Tax for state purposes. So, all the things we talked about today, Medicaid, Long-Term Care, these programs, it’s gonna be difficult to raise more revenue in the future to pay for these other state-wide, unmet needs.”
This is a very telling statement. I interviewed some “old” timers and found out that the one-half percent county surcharge was never going to be temporary. After the rail was built, the state would just continue the tax, and it would become a permanent tax increase. This explains why some legislators argue so vehemently that the one-half percent tax is really a state tax given to the counties for rail transit and they ask, why it is not a county tax.
Using this logic, the leaders are now interjecting a “temporary” increase to the Transit Accommodation Tax of one to two percent for rail. In other words, the goal is not to just fund rail but to get people use to a tax increase using rail as an excuse and then making it permanent when people got use to the tax. Now that’s great governing.
Related: House, Senate Still Split on Rail Funding