LIHUE — State Reps. James Tokioka and Isaac Choy received notice late Sunday morning that they were reassigned from the House Finance Committee.
The move, coming a day before the special session to bail out the financially strapped Honolulu Rail Project, came out of nowhere, said Tokioka (D-15).
“I got a call from the Vice Speaker of the House (Della Au Belatti) and she told me that the Speaker (Scott Saiki) wanted her to tell me that they were removing me from the finance committee,” he said. “I’ve been here 11 years. And for those 11 years, I’ve been on the finance committee. I was the longest serving, consecutive member on the committee.”
The move came as a surprise to Tokioka, but what really caught him off guard was when he entered the House floor Monday morning.
“What also happened (Monday morning) when I read the resolution on the change of assignments on the committee, was that I was taken off the committee on tourism, which I was member of for nine years,” he said. “I was reassigned from that too, but I didn’t know that until I got on the House floor and read the resolution. I was not told about that change.”
When asked if he or Choy were given an explanation as to why they ousted from the finance committee, Tokioka said no.
“Was there any reason given? Well, I’ve made it clear to the House leadership that I did not support the TAT from the neighbor islands going to pay for rail, that 1 percent increase,” he said.
Choy did not respond to TGI’s request for comment.
Rep. Nadine Nakamura (D-14) sent a statement to TGI Monday afternoon regarding Tokioka’s removal from the finance committee.
“I’m sorry that Jimmy Tokioka is no longer serving on the House Finance Committee,” she said. “Rep. Tokioka has always had an open door to help me with questions and concerns. I will continue to work with Jimmy and seek his advice to best serve the island of Kauai.”
Tokioka added that his and Choy’s opinions on rail funding plans were most likely the reason they were reassigned.
“Only they know why they removed me,” he said. “When I got the call, they said they were looking to put freshmen on the finance committee, but that’s not what happened. I’m not really sure why they did it, I have to assume its because I have been vocal on some of the issues that they felt contrary towards, one of them being the TAT from the neighboring islands to fund the rail … I try to stay positive, but it seems that way.”
Rep. Dee Morikawa (D-16) was also surprised that Tokioka was ousted from the finance committee a day before the special session took place, but saw this change coming.
“Anytime there is a change in leadership, there is definitely a change in committees,” she said. “And in this instance, the change would’ve been done next session anyway, but I guess because special session is happening they’re just doing it now.”
Morikawa, who was also recently taken out of the committees of health and services, said more changes are expected.
“There’s a lot of shuffling going on. I’m not sure why or what happened to Rep. Tokioka, I’m not privy to what happened there, but I know that there’s a lot of changes. They’re trying to be accommodated right now, the resolution is currently sitting open for any amendments set for (today).”
The five-day special session of the Legislature convened Monday in an effort to provide billions of dollars in funding for the 20-mile rail project that already has a budget shortfall as high as $3 billion.
Senate Bill 4 was introduced to raise the statewide hotel room tax by 1 percent for 13 years to raise $1.04 billion in funding.
When the Senate adjourned in May earlier this year, Tokioka said that the Senate had an amendment on the floor that they voted for and passed, which would extend the GET for 10 years.
The leadership in the House has not been supportive of rail, according to Tokioka.
“They chose to come up with a financing scheme that, in my opinion, is going to leave the Honolulu rail project short,” he said. “It’s punishing the neighbor islands, and some of the senators that were frustrated with it are from the neighbor islands. They chose to use the TAT to fund the project, which I didn’t agree with so I strongly opposed it.”
Tokioka remains steadfast in his view that the Honolulu rail is, at the end of the day, a good idea that he supports. He just doesn’t agree with the funding plan of the project.
“My first goal is to protect the people in District 15 on Kauai and through the state of Hawaii, and when it came to this project, it didn’t seem like the right thing to do to finance it,” he said. “I totally support rail, I just don’t support this funding method. Especially when we already had a funding method in place. When do you disagree with House leadership … I think they come to their own conclusions.”