“I jump-started the debate back in 2003 when I was elected to the House as the vice chair of the transportation committee and put in the initial bills to start the rail debate which led to Governor Lingle putting a task force, which led to her support of the elevated rail system, which led to the half percent excise tax and the Council taking it from there.”

That was the claim Acting Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell made at a debate put on by the Commercial Real Estate Developer Association at the Pacific Club last week.

But did Caldwell play the pivotal role in resurrecting rail-transit for the city? We thought it was an interesting statement, given that his old boss, former Mayor Mufi Hannemann usually is the one who takes credit for making the project happen.

And as it turns out, neither of them should be patting themselves on the back too firmly.

Here is what is true:

On Jan. 22, 2003, Caldwell (along with Reps Joseph Souki, Scott Saiki, Blake Oshiro and Marcus Oshiro) introduced House Bill 1074. The description of the bill said the following: “Requires the Department of Transportation, in conjunction with the Oahu Metropolitan Planning Organization, to develop an action plan for implementation of a fixed rail transit system on Oahu. Requires the DOT to begin process of acquiring land for the fixed rail transit system.”

The Bill passed its first reading, but on Feb. 3, 2003, the Transportation Committee recommended it be held and 1074 was eventually carried over into the 2004 Regular Session where it died.

Regardless of how the Bill fared, however, Caldwell was right when he said that he introduced rail legislation in 2003.

It is also true that later in 2003, Gov. Linda Lingle put together a task force through the Dept. of Transportation, which ultimately led to her support of rail-transit.

Finally, on Aug. 10, 2005, the Honolulu City Council voted 7-2 in favor of raising the general excise tax by 0.5 percent to help pay for the rail-transit project. (The nays came from Rep. Charles Djou and the late Barbara Marshall).

So far so good.

Except for the whole “jump-started” thing, that is.

With a little research in the state Legislature’s archives, Civil Beat found that one Bill and one Senate Resolution relating to rail-transit were introduced in 1999 and 2002, respectively. Caldwell had no visible involvement in either.

The first Bill, HB 732 introduced Jan. 26, 1999, was entitled, “Fixed Rail System.”

HB 732’s description said: “Requires the department of transportation to study the possibility of establishing a fixed rail mass transit system in the busiest transportation areas of Oahu with private sector funding and federal sponsorship.”

The Bill passed its first reading, was carried over into the 2000 Regular Session and died.

The Resolution relating to rail was introduced to the Hawaii state senate on Mar. 14, 2002.

SCR 142 (Senate Concurrent Resolution) was titled: “Requesting the Governor to Convene a Task Force Regarding a Light Rail System.”

And unlike HB 732 or Caldwell’s HB 1074, SCR 142 lived a long, full life.

On Apr. 2, 2002, the Transportation, Military Affairs and Government Operations Committee recommended that SC 142 be “passed unamended.”

After a series of Senate procedures, and ultimately adopting certain amendments requested by the House, the Senate received a “notice of Adoption” on May 3, 2002 (meaning, the Resolution passed). Certified copies of the resolution were sent to Gov. Lingle May 15, 2002. (You can read the text of the Resolution here

Whether Lingle took the advice of the Resolution, which lacks the force of law, isn’t central to our fact check.

What is clear, however, is that a debate over rail was already under way before Caldwell’s 2003 bill. Both the House and Senate had been discussing the issue for literally years before HB 1074 was ever conceived. The topic got its start more than 40 years ago, in 1967.

We aren’t saying that Caldwell had no role in rail – we aren’t even saying that HB 1074 wasn’t a significant factor in helping to encourage more debate on the issue.

But did rail really need “jump-starting” after a resolution had already passed calling on the governor to create a task force?


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