Public support for O‘ahu rail is still there; is the money?

One seemingly clear message from the recent election is that majority public support for the $5.5 billion O‘ahu rail transit system remains intact two years after voters passed an initiative approving a steel-on-steel commuter line.

Opponents claim rail played a part in former Mayor Mufi Hannemann’s lopsided loss to Neil Abercrombie in the Democratic primary for governor, but there were many other issues in that campaign and Abercrombie was equally pro-rail.

City races were a better measure of public sentiment on rail. In the special election for mayor, in which rail was a major issue, anti-rail candidate Panos Prevedouros won only a fifth of the vote and finished third against the unequivocally pro-rail Peter Carlisle and Kirk Caldwell.

Anti-rail sentiment didn’t materialize in the four City Council races and a City Charter amendment creating a transit authority, which gave voters an opportunity to express displeasure with rail, passed with a comfortable 63.6 percent of the vote.

The question now is whether the money to pay for the 20-mile line from Kapolei to Ala Moana is still there — a concern not to be taken lightly after the emphatic Republican takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Public support could wane fast if local taxpayers end up having to pick up the $1.5 billion federal share in addition to the $4 billion local share. I look more closely at the new rail equation in my column in today’s Star-Advertiser, “GOP shift means isle leaders need to discuss rail funding.”

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12 Comments on “Public support for O‘ahu rail is still there; is the money?”

  1. Scott Goold Says:

    Aloha ~
    Unfortunately, few understand our current economic challenges. FDR did. He successfully managed a DEMAND crisis in America during the Great Depression.

    The reality is local taxpayers are strapped and struggling – they need help; the reality is O’ahu needs this public transportation project – it helps us be more competitive and efficient in the future.

    And, the reality is Americans voted in Election 2010 for JOBS, JOBS, JOBS! Therefore … the Federal government should cover the entire cost of this project – 100%! Revenues from train ridership can be channeled back to the Federal government over decades to pay back this investment. The Federal government will eventually realize a profit.

    This solutions answers Election 2010, by creating JOBS; it stimulates the local economy by reducing the tax burden on residents and pumps billions into the economy by hiring construction workers, an industry that has collapsed.

    FDR understood how to manage and beat a DEMAND economic crisis. Sadly, Americans today continue to be DUPED by Republicans who prefer tax cuts for the MOST RICH and high debt burdens on the Middle Class.

    Let’s get this one right! Invest in Hawai’i; invest in jobs; invest in local taxpayers.

    A*L*O*H*A

  2. Richard Gozinya Says:

    Our nation has been shaken by the worst economic crisis in many years and economists and others predict we will be facing a n future far different than we expected. Commodity prices soaring, revenues stagnating, a new housing paradigm and the credit market conditions all suggest that it would be a good time to sit back and take another look at the rail plan and see if the fundamental and underlying assumptions – the macro level stuff – still makes sense in the face of the last few years’ changes.

    With tens of millions spent on PR, there’s been darn little transparency in rail and now’s a good time to instill that in the process if we are to go forward.

    Finally, while Dave asserts that public support for rail is strong, I question that. Rather than divining the tea leaves of the elections, why not conduct a meaningful Statewide survey of residents and determine their support? Isn’t that the the least we could do before committing thousands of millions of tax dollars at a time of such financial precariousness?

  3. Earl of Sandwich Says:

    Richard, the survey on public opinion was the ballot question for Oahu voters two years ago. A statewide survey would not be appropriate, since rail is going to be overwhelmingly paid for by Oahu residents.

  4. Capitol -ist/WassupDoc Says:

    There are two very important economic questions to be addressed by moving the rail project forward:

    The first is the thousands of jobs to be created directly by the construction projects themselves. We’re not just talking blue collar heavy equipment operators but also administrative staff supporting these workers as well as workers producing & delivering supplies & materials.

    Not all direct construction jobs will be located in Hawai`i – after all, we don’t have steel factories here – but as long as these non-Hawai`i jobs are filled by US residents, then eventually we will benefit from the tax dollars they’ll be paying.

    Then there are the jobs which will be (re-)created by the additional money flowing through the economy when workers cash their paychecks, buy stuff, and pay their taxes.

    The increase in direct taxes alone at the state & federal will be substantial. Several years ago, I did an analysis for a very different project and found that on average every worker paid slightly under 15 cents out of every dollar earned (net after deductions) in county, state & federal taxes.

    If we assume that this figure still holds, that’s about $150 million in new taxes for every billion spent on public project wages.

    The other economic benefit comes after the project has been completed. Transit-oriented development will continue to create jobs, provide housing and generate tax revenues.

    However, as an environut, the most critical jstification for this project is the ability for this state to reduce its dependency on fossil fuels by reducing – not eliminating – the number of vehicles on the roads. We depend upon fossil fuels for almost 95% of our energy and transportation needs and almost 90% comes from outside the United States – thus sending billions of dollars to countries and companies which view the US as the enemy.

    Furthermore, by working to reduce our fossil fuel consumption, we will also reduce greenhouse gas emissions and their impact on climate change/rising seas.

    The incoming crop of legislators who think that they can stop climate change by denying it will indeed have a huge impact on public policy.

    That’s why we need to take care of ourselves first – and that’s why moving rail forward to reduce – not eliminate – the number of cars is a major first step.

    David, I urge that your thoughtful readers from both sides of the political spectrum read the full citation in today’s blog by Ian Lind about a report from the Council on Foreign Relations. http://www.ilind.net/

  5. Michael Says:

    The Yellow Rail. by Joni Mitchell

    “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot
    With a pink hotel, a boutique, and a swinging hot spot
    Don’t it always seem to go
    That you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone
    They paved paradise and put up a parking lot

    They took all the trees and put ’em in a tree museum
    And then they charged all the people twenty-five bucks just to see ’em
    Don’t it always seem to go
    That you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone
    They paved paradise and put up a parking lot”

  6. Richard Gozinya Says:

    Earl,could you refresh a geezer’s memory and quote exactly what that ballot question said?

    Whilst the Oahu taxpayer gets goosed the most,it strikes me that the focus on rail impacts all residents of Hawaii hence all should get to have their say. Why not? Scared? How come so hard to just get a straight forward opinion survey?

  7. anticoqui Says:

    Good for jobs of all levels to be offered by the rail construction….too bad many or most will be going to highly skilled outsiders who funnel monies away from Hawii. Oh they’ll have to eat but they like the locals will penny-pinch to find the best eating deals while salting away the rest for families back home wherevers.The only way rail will maybe do well is if gas tax is raised so high that less folks will drive their own cars/trucks; and The Bus isn’t as fast as the rail to get folks where they want to.

  8. David Shapiro Says:

    Richard, I didn’t realize that old geezers had their access to Google cut off. The referendum that received majority approval in 2008 said:

    “Shall the powers, duties, and functions of the city, through its director of transportation services, include establishment of a steel wheel on steel rail transit system?”

    The vote was fair and square and there’s no reasonable basis for a do-over at this point. Nor is there any basis for a statewide referendum on a City and County of Honolulu project financed with an Oahu-only excise tax.

  9. zzzzzing Says:

    Dave, in all fairness, the economical climate was not as dire as it is now – and people i know who supported it initially do not support it now. I’m sure there are plenty of people I don’t know that also have changed their views.

  10. David Shapiro Says:

    zzzzzing, I agree with you to a point and I think the mayor and council should certainly take an open and honest look at the changed finances and whether we’ll have the money to pay for it. But we don’t get a re-do on the public referendum every two years. Those who supported rail in 2008 and changed their minds could have voted for Panos or against the transit authority.

  11. Doug Carlson Says:

    Dave, just when the anti-railers think they have Washington figured out and Honolulu rail won’t be funded because the GOP now controls the US House, along comes “Tea Party darling” Michele Bachmann (R-MN) with this statement:

    “‘Advocating for transportation projects for one’s district, in my mind, does not equate to an earmark.”

    StarTribune.com has the story: http://bit.ly/cKhOE2 She’s even talked with presumed Transportation Committee Chair Rep. John Mica (R-FL) about this. The doom talk is more than a little premature.

  12. zzzzzing Says:

    Dave, funny you should mention Panos as a solution to no rail… I and many others who aren’t interested in Rail as a viable option for Oahu don’t see him as capable of leading Honolulu – therefore we didn’t vote for him. That said, it saddens me that Carlisle not taking a more measured view towards Rail & its implications for our economy (among many other things).


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