Ige: ‘Waste of time’

HONOLULU — The state’s top-elected official said Wednesday an extension of the legislative session to resolve issues involving Honolulu’s rail project would be “a waste of time.”

“The legislature, House and Senate are too divided at this point in time. I don’t think that it would be productive,” Ige said at a press conference on Wednesday. “I think that any discussion of a special session is premature. I think there’s needs to be a plan about what we can fund, what we can afford and what can be funded.”

Earlier in the day, four Hawaii mayors — including Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho, Jr — sent a letter to Ige requesting to extend the session to resolve fundamental differences Hawaii lawmakers have with the multi-billion dollar rail project.

“I am not interested in extending the session unless there’s an agreement with the legislature,” Ige said.

Carvalho said leaving unfinished business on the table and walking away solves nothing.

“Any failure to reach an agreement on sufficient funding for our counties statewide hurts our local residents whether here on Kauai or our friends in Honolulu,” he said in a statement Wednesday. “We all have disagreements, but I believe we all have everyone’s best interest at heart. Resolving those differences sometimes requires more time and more dialogue.”

He added: “It is my hope that our state leaders will have the courage to continue the discussion and not adjourn prematurely before consensus is reached.”

The House rejected a Senate proposal Tuesday that called for extending the excise tax surcharge for rail for another decade to help fund the project. Meanwhile, the Senate rejected a proposal to boost hotel taxes by 2.5 percent.

House Transportation Committee Chairman Henry Aquino is now proposing increasing the hotel room tax by 1 percent for 11 years. He says the plan to put up more than $1.7 billion for the partially built project would provide more rail funding than any other proposal brought forward so far.

“I feel this is a responsible floor amendment, and it addresses many of the concerns that we received,” Aquino said.

But other House lawmakers said the new proposal would result in Honolulu losing $45 million a year in hotel room taxes the city now receives from the state. That money would go toward the rail project under Aquino’s proposal.

Tourism industry officials issued a statement Tuesday in opposition of using hotel taxes for rail.

“We are opposed to tapping into the (hotel room tax) as a funding mechanism for Honolulu’s rail project and continue to believe that the (excise tax surcharge) is the more appropriate funding mechanism,” the Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association said.

Cost estimates for the rail project have gone from about $5 billion in 2014 to nearly $10 billion.

If the House and Senate can’t agree on a funding bill, the city of Honolulu will have to find its own funding solution for the rail project.

The 2017 legislative session is scheduled to end Thursday.

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The Associated Press contributed to this story

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