Emergency Rail Plan: Taxpayers Have Our Back

Courtesy Honolulu High Capacity Transit Corridor Project

The man in charge of Honolulu's rail authority says he doesn't need to show the Federal Transit Administration any new powers to raise funds in an emergency — because the city government already has those powers.

"HART is not a grantee, it's the City and County of Honolulu," Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation interim executive director Toru Hamayasu told Civil Beat after a board meeting Thursday.

That's the most direct answer yet to a question floating around for nearly a month, since the FTA told HART that the rail financial plan needs to be strengthened before Honolulu can get $1.55 billion in federal grant funds. That question was how could HART raise more money when it doesn't have that authority.

Hamayasu's answer that raising money is the city's job also clarifies how HART views its independence, something that is still being defined a little more than six months after it came into existence as a semi-autonomous agency responsible for rail transit.

The FTA's Dec. 29 letter instructed HART to "demonstrate the availability of additional revenue sources that could be tapped should unexpected events such as cost increases or funding shortfalls occur." Without help, HART can't tap the two emergency funding sources it identifies in its most recent financial plan.

An extension of the half-cent general excise tax surcharge would require the approval of the Hawaii Legislature, and so-called "value capture" measures would require the assent of the Honolulu City Council.

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