A controversial measure to increase the general excise tax to pay for Honolulu’s $6 billion rail project passed its first committee hearing in the Hawaii Senate on Thursday.
But lawmakers didn’t give the city the permanent half-percent surcharge it was seeking.
Instead, they extended the 2022 sunset date to 2047 and tacked on several caveats, including requiring a state audit of the project’s finances that must be completed before the 2016 legislative session.
The amended bill states that half of the 10 percent surcharge revenue the state skims from the rail portion of the GET must also be used for transit-oriented development projects.
It was a victory for the city’s project, which has an estimated shortfall of up to $1 billion. The was vote unanimous and there weren’t many tough questions coming from committee members.
With the extension, lawmakers hope the project could expand to the University of Hawaii at Manoa and downtown Kapolei.
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“We understand within these committees the importance of rail,” said Sen. Will Espero, who chairs the Public Safety Committee that was part of Thursday’s joint hearing.
“It’s not only about mobility. But it’s really dealing with the future growth of our population