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Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Honolulu Councilmembers reject Berg resolution, cite fear of retaliation
By News Release @ 7:05 PM :: 5849 Views :: Maui County, Education K-12, Energy, Environment

THOUGH SUPPORTIVE OF CITY COUNCILMAN TOM BERG'S INTENT, THE COUNCIL MAJORITY VOTES TO ALLOW STATE LEGISLATURE TO CONTINUE OVERCHARGING HONOLULU TAXPAYERS FOR RAIL

News Release From Honolulu Councilmember Tom Berg

Honolulu, Hawaii -  At a rare special meeting of the City Council this morning, Councilmember Berg obtained the nearly unanimous verbal consensus of his colleagues that the State Legislature needs to address the long-standing problem of grossly overcharging the City for collecting the rail tax since 2007; a situation which is projected to shortchange the City rail fund by $300 million during the life of the GET surcharge.

However, Berg’s proposed resolution – adopted unanimously in the Council's government affairs committee two weeks ago – was voted down six to three amid concerns that most council members found the timing of Berg’s “message sending” resolution too risky during the current economy, given that the deficit-plagued State Legislature is still in session and might choose to retaliate against the City by withholding its share of the hotel room tax or grabbing even more money from the City’s dedicated rail fund if the Council insists on getting its full share of the rail tax collections.

Council members Breene Harimoto and Tulsi Gabbard Tamayo were among the eight member majority who openly sided with Berg’s stance on the overcharging, but cited Berg’s perceived “insensitivity” to the feelings of state legislators and “inflammatory remarks” as their main reason to oppose Berg’s resolution.  Councilmember Ann Kobayashi defended the current overcharging of City taxpayers by the State, citing previous City leaders having negotiated the higher than needed collection fee retained by the State for collecting the rail tax and her not wanting to renege on the nearly five year old deal which consequently allows the State to use Honolulu’s rail funds for pet projects of neighbor island legislators.

Defending Berg’s “high passion” about the issue were resolution supporters Council Chair Nestor Garcia and Windward council member Ikaika Anderson.  Garcia stated:  “Members have a fiduciary responsibility to the City.  I don’t worry about their reaction across the street.  It’s time to take a stand and ruffle feathers.”   Anderson challenged his colleagues, reminding them that “we are here to vote on a specific resolution which has already been toned down in language, not to endorse Tom Berg’s adjectives or aggressive press releases or media articles.  We need to stand tall and do what’s right.”

Following the special council meeting, Berg remarked:  If they don’t like my straight talk, so be it.  I'm not here to worry about the self-esteem of politicians who got us into this mess.  I'm here to get taxpayers their money's worth.  That's why it's never a good time to turn a blind eye to gross misuse of taxpayer monies and it's always a good time to be honest and forthright about injustice.  I am counting on all eight of my colleagues to help push this issue from now until the final day of NEXT year's legislative session.  That gives us more than 365 days to right this wrong.”

Council Chair Nestor Garcia offered to work with Berg soon to develop a joint communiqué to leaders of the State Legislature for the signature of all council members which will convey a united voice of the Council the intent of Berg’s resolution.

Refusing several requests from Councilmembers Stanley Chang and Romy Cachola to withdraw the resolution, Berg forced a roll call vote on the issue:  “Nobody did anything on this Council during the past few years back when there was a $700 million dollar surplus.  I just got here in January and this situation is unacceptable.  The fleecing of taxpayers must end.”

In response to several members who expressed fear that the legislature might retaliate against the City for demanding an end to the overcharging, Berg attempted to soothe these worries by highlighting the legislature’s action taken yesterday to approve the City’s fair share of the hotel room tax (TAT).  To further drive home the point that the Council needn’t worry about financial retaliation, Berg cited an “ace in the hole”, holding up a Democrat campaign mailer from five months ago in which Calvin Say’s campaign organization “Citizens for a Responsive Government” admitted that voters would be able to blame the legislature for any property tax increase if the legislature were to withhold the City’s share of the TAT.

Berg stated at the hearing that it would be unwise for the Legislature to retaliate and take the counties' share of the Transient Accommodations Tax (TAT). "I hold in my hand a flyer from the Democrats mailed to out voters in the 2010 election that illustrates they the Democrats refused to tap into the TAT and thus by their actions to kill any TAT raid kept property taxes from being increased and protected emergency services, police, fire and senior services from being diminished. These legislators cannot have it both ways. For if they now did take the TAT, that means the Democrats would indeed be responsible for property tax increases The resolution was about doing what is right and calling out government that has gone afoul. Any link to other ramifications levied upon our County by the State Legislature for demanding they act in good faith should not have been a factor."  [COPY OF MAILER ATTACHED]

The final vote:

  • Yes – Anderson, Berg
  • Yes with Reservations – Garcia
  • No – Cachola, Chang, Gabbard-Tamayo, Harimoto, Kobayashi, Martin

MORE INFORMATION is contained in Councilman Berg's op-ed published in this morning's edition of the Star-Advertiser: http://www.staradvertiser.com/editorials/guesteditorials/20110413_Stop_state_from_using_city_s_rail_fund_as__its_own_piggy_bank.html

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Related: Berg: Council could reverse Ansaldo Rail Contract

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