Political Fight For Oahu's GET Heats Up

Nick Grube/Honolulu Civil Beat

If Ben Cayetano thinks he can get his hands on the general excise tax surcharge that’s currently being collected for the city’s $5.26 billion rail project, he may want to think again.

That's the message Marcus Oshiro, the chair of the House Committee on Finance, recently sent in a letter to Dan Grabauskas, the head of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation. He says Cayetano will have a difficult time wrestling the money from the state, which is currently collecting the funds on behalf of Honolulu.

Oshiro said that not only does Cayetano’s alternative transportation plan not qualify for the surcharge funds under current law, but that the state could put the money — already nearly $1 billion — to a more effective use, such as filling its own budget gaps.

“The law is clear in its intent that funds not be diverted to other transportation or county capital projects,” Oshiro wrote in his letter. “Additionally, as you are aware, the State has many of its own programs and projects that face funding shortfalls, and any legislative initiative to change the restrictions in the use of the surcharge will almost certainly result in the surcharge funds being directed away from Honolulu’s transportation needs to address the budgetary challenges confronting the State.”

It’s hard to tell how much of this is political posturing by Oshiro, and whether his views would be supported by others in the Legislature. In addition to Grabauskas, the Oct. 15 letter went to House Speaker Calvin Say and HART Chair Carrie Okinaga.

Oshiro’s letter also raises questions about whether it’s even appropriate for the state to take control of funds for the county, especially considering only people on Oahu pay this surcharge.

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