LOS ANGELES — The Hawaii legislature’s failure to reach an agreement before close of session on how to fill a $3 billion shortfall for Honolulu elevated rail could put the $8.2 billion project in jeopardy.
A spokesman for Mayor Kirk Caldwell said the mayor hopes to convince lawmakers to go into special session to craft a compromise.
The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation had to submit a recovery plan to the Federal Transit Administration by May 1 explaining how it is going to make up for the shortfall. The FTA signed an agreement with HART in 2012 to provide $1.55 billion in federal funding – at least half of which has already been allocated.
The report’s deadline came before the end of the Hawaii legislative session, at which point lawmakers still hoped to reach a compromise on how to pay for the rail project’s funding shortfall.
“There is an overriding concern that the FTA funding could be in jeopardy if some agreement cannot be reached,” said Andrew Pereira, a Caldwell spokesman.
Caldwell had supported legislation that would have extended Hawaii’s general excise tax by 10 years. Lawmakers haggled over various proposals to raise hotel taxes or the GET, or both, but failed to reach an agreement before the 60-day legislative session ended Thursday.
Lawmakers already extended the GET in 2015 to pay for cost overruns.
Caldwell will continue to work with leaders in the House and Senate to bring them back to discuss the issue in a special session, Pereira said.
“The mayor is going to allow for a cooling off period, before he works to make that happen,” Pereira said.
The session was one of the most contentious lawmakers have had in years. Joseph Souki, speaker of the Hawaii House of Representatives, ended up resigning from his leadership position in the heat of the battle over rail. Jill Tokuda also lost her chairmanship of the Senate’s Ways and Means committee in the fray.
The Senate had voted 16-9 to extend the GET, but the House couldn’t reach an agreement.
Hawaii Gov. David Ige said in a press conference after the close of the legislative session that he would not support a special session for rail funding unless he believes lawmakers can come to a resolution.
“I am not interested in extending the session unless there is bipartisan agreement from the Senate and the House,” Ige said. He added it’s premature to talk about holding a special session until there is more agreement around how to fund the shortfall, Ige said.
“I am dedicated to seeing the rail project completed, but I recognize current costs exceed revenue availability,” he said.