Permanent rail tax floated; mayor backs Ala Moana over feds’ downtown minimum

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A Honolulu City Council member is proposing a permanent extension to the general excise tax, and it’s an idea Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell thinks should be considered.

Councilmember Brandon Elefante submitted a resolution Wednesday to keep the half-percent surcharge going indefinitely to help pay for rail operations and maintenance and to extend rail to West Kapolei and Manoa.

Read the resolution in its entirety here.

“I think a funding source that helps (the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation) continue to build, otherwise HART stops the first 20 miles, they go away. They’re no longer a construction (entity). There’s an operations and maintenance aspect, then you’d have to recreate this again,” Caldwell said, “so I think it’s better to continue to march forward, and it’s something that should be discussed with the Legislature and community.”

“The problem with this project isn’t whether or not the people have given enough money to the city,” said Honolulu mayoral candidate Charles Djou. “The problem is clear, simple mismanagement. Before we talk about raising taxes, we need to take first steps first.”Read more: June 2016 HART study of stop-short options and ridership at various stations

Caldwell and other city and HART leaders are just back from meetings in San Francisco with the Federal Transit Administration, at which the FTA said no to giving any more money beyond its $1.55 billion committed.

The FTA also told the city that while the feds prefer to see the train make it all the way to Ala Moana, the route has to get to downtown Honolulu at a minimum, or the entire federal grant would be forfeited, according to Honolulu City Council chairman Ernie Martin.

Caldwell said he wouldn’t support stopping short of Ala Moana Center.

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