FACT CHECK — Grabauskas: Debt Ate 30% of Boston Transit Budget

Lena Tran/Civil Beat

Everyone is excited about their new job right when they first start work, and Honolulu's rail chief Daniel Grabauskas is no exception.

He's been touring Oahu touting the reasons he is so stoked to lead the city's $5.2 billion mass transit project to completion.

Early on in his tenure, Grabauskas told the Honolulu City Council that our rail project is "amazing" because there will be no long-term debt. This is unlike the project he oversaw as head of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority in Boston, where he said nearly a third of the system's budget went to pay off old debt.

"Folks should realize that what is spectacularly prudent about the way that Honolulu has been approaching this project is that very shortly after it is constructed, it is paid; there is no debt," he told the council last month. "I come from an old system where 30 percent of our operating budget goes to debt service. When this project is built, in the wisdom of the way that this is structured with both federal and GET funding, you'll be having an operating obligation but no debt service."

In a follow-up interview with Civil Beat, Grabauskas repeated his assertion that Honolulu's project is great because debt won't eat up its operating budget over the long haul.

He likened Honolulu's rail project to "a house with no mortgage."

Nice analogies aside, we wanted to know if 30 percent of the MBTA's operating budget does in fact go to debt service as Grabauskas claimed. So we took a look at the budget for the Boston project.

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