One of the biggest gripes the Honolulu City Council has about Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s operating budget was that it didn’t do enough to restore bus service.

While he included an extra $3.5 million in his budget for this endeavor, some council members thought that was short of the full restoration he promised during his 2012 campaign.

Now Honolulu City Councilman Breene Harimoto is picking up where Caldwell left off with a new proposal that he says will virtually eliminate the bus service cuts that were made in the twilight of the Carlisle administration.

But as with any budgetary maneuver there’s a tradeoff.

Harimoto’s proposal snips most of the $10 million in earmarks his colleagues have inserted into the budget for nonprofits and other groups, something that could make it a tough sell for his colleagues on June 5 when they’re expected to pass a final spending plan that will then go to the mayor for approval.

Only some of that money — about $3 million, Harimoto said — will be funneled into the the bus system for route restoration.

Coupled with the $3.5 million the Caldwell administration has already dedicated to service restoration, Harimoto said it should be enough to wipe away the anger and dismay caused by the previous administration’s decision to trim $7 million from TheBus.

“It’s what everybody has been clamoring for and we’ve heard the outcry,” Harimoto said. “I’m hopeful because we already know (there’s support) because the council members have already gone on record saying they want bus routes restored.”

Caldwell spokesman Jesse Broder Van Dyke said the mayor supports any plan that would improve city bus services, as well as proposals to ensure nonprofits receiving public funds are properly vetted.

Whose Responsibility Is It?

Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi, who chairs the Budget Committee, hasn’t been shy about the fact that she wants to see the bus cuts disappear.

But Kobayashi has also said it shouldn’t be incumbent on the council to do that. That responsibility belongs to the mayor, she said. It was his campaign promise after all.

“If he hadn’t said that they wouldn’t expect that,” she told Civil Beat in a previous interview.

The administration contends, however, that it has been restoring bus routes and working with the community to do so. It has also said not all of the cuts were bad.

In a statement, Director of Transportation Services Mike Formby said the administration is in the middle of restoring several key bus routes that were cut under former Mayor Peter Carlisle with some improvements coming later this summer.

That doesn’t mean more changes won’t be needed, he added, and that the administration will continue to find ways to improve bus service.

“We stand behind that commitment,” Formby said. “We continue to listen to the community, we are open to further changes, and we are actively seeking additional funding opportunities.”

The council has already shot down Caldwell’s gas tax proposal that would have helped pay for bus restoration.

But Kobayashi’s philosophy might have created a bit of a stalemate when it came to the council restoring bus cuts. As it stands, the Budget Committee did not insert any new money for bus route restoration.

This doesn’t mean council members weren’t thinking about it. Council Chair Ernie Martin initially proposed bolstering the public transit fund by $1 million to cut down on the wait for buses that serve the North Shore.

Councilman Ron Menor also asked for just over $1 million to restore Route E, which runs from Ewa Beach to Waikiki.

But while the latest draft of the council budget says that the administration should spend the money to restore Route E, there was no allocation of funds, meaning the money will have to come from the what’s already in the pot.

No More Earmarks?

Harimoto’s budget calls on the council to restore bus routes using money from the earmarks they inserted for various nonprofit and special interest groups. The earmarked funds are in addition to $5.5 million that voters said in 2012 should be set aside for grants-in-aid to charities.

The only line item Harimoto’s budget leaves alone is $1.5 million for the Leeward Coast Community Benefits Program, which was created by former Mayor Mufi Hannemann as a means to compensate West Oahu residents for being home to the Waimanalo Gulch Landfill and H-POWER plant that converts trash to energy.

“I think the Leeward Coast Community Benefits Program is something special,” Harimoto said. “There’s been a lot of discussion about it and I think there’s pretty much universal agreement that the Leeward Coast community should be compensated for the landfill.”

The money goes to community services, programs and other park-related activities that aim to improve life on that part of the island. The program works through a competitive grant process, and Councilwoman Kymberly Pine has requested that $500,000 go to the three neighborhood boards representing Nanakuli-Maili, the Waianae Coast, and Makakilo and Kapolei.

Councilwoman Kymberly Pine, who represents the Leeward Coast, inserted the $1.5 million earmark for the program. There was $1.5 million allocated in Fiscal Year 2013, but the money was never spent. The Caldwell administration has opposed adding an additional $1.5 million in the Fiscal Year 2014 budget for the program.

Pine has said she considers the payment to her community part of a larger social justice issue for Leeward Coast residents having the island’s only landfill and trash-incinerating plant.

“After promises to close the plant in 2008 were broken, the City started the Leeward Coast Benefits Program to mitigate these ill-effects,” Pine said in a statement. “Today, the program is an important symbol of the City’s commitment to the residents of these adversely impacted communities.”

What Else Is On The Table?

It’s unclear how Harimoto’s proposal will fare in front of the full council. His previous criticisms of the earmarks were largely ignored, but with the additional money for bus routes some council members could find themselves conflicted.

Harimoto’s draft will also be competing with at least two other budget plans.

The latest council draft that comes from the Budget Committee balances the $2 billion budget while keeping the $10 million for nonprofits intact. It also accounts for large salary and benefit increases that are coming from new union contracts without relying on new taxes.

Councilman Ikaika Anderson, who is said to be mulling a run for Congress, also plans to introduce his own version of the budget that will keep get rid of the nearly $10 million in council earmarks for nonprofits.

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