Just How Deep Will Honolulu Rail's Debt Be?

Dan Zelikman/Civil Beat

Mayoral candidate Ben Cayetano last week raised the specter that Honolulu will go up to $7 billion in debt to pay for the city's rail project.

He made the claim in an op-ed in Civil Beat responding to the news that the federal government had given the city the green light to begin construction.

Asked about it, Cayetano at first walked back from the "debt" word and said he should have said "cost" instead. But he didn't back off the suggestion that the city can't afford the project, saying that the money to pay for it isn't falling from the trees.

In his op-ed, Cayetano said he's running for mayor "because I believe that adding $5 to $7 billion in debt for an elevated, heavy rail system that will not reduce traffic congestion and will suck the air out of the city's ability to provide more important basic services does not make sense."

Cayetano's misuse of the word debt creates an impression about the project that is misleading. It implies there's no money to cover the costs of the project and could inflame fears about the system's finances.

The debt, according to one of the state's top bankers who's the chair of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation's Finance Committee, will at its peak be about $1 billion, and it will be paid off soon after construction is done.

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