If you live on Oahu, you know you’re paying an extra 0.5 percent General Excise Tax surcharge to fund a proposed rail project, called the Honolulu High-Capacity Transit Corridor Project.

I’m trying to understand how realistic the projections for the county surcharge really are, but they seem to be as complex and cumbersome as the name of the project itself.

The city has built in a $1 billion cushion — can you imagine? — to accommodate budget overruns, Mark Oto, the city’s deputy director of Budget and Fiscal services, told me. The county surcharge is supposed to pay operating costs and the debt service on the capital loans for the project. In other words, if you borrow money to build something, you have to make interest payments right away. The surcharge began in 2007 and is supposed to sunset at the end of 2022.

But what if the city can’t collect the money it needs to finish the project? Would it extend the county surcharge past 2022?

Here’s why this seems plausible: There’s talk in the Legislature about raising the state’s 4 percent General Excise Tax. Rep. Marcus Oshiro this week wrote an editorial in The Honolulu Advertiser explaining the House’s stance: “We rejected any increase because the GET is a regressive tax, meaning the tax payments comprise a higher percentage of poorer people’s incomes than it does for wealthier people. It also increases the cost of doing business in Hawaii, making goods and services more expensive or forcing businesses to absorb the tax, resulting in less available income to pay employees, make investments, or clear as profit.”

It seems to me if lawmakers start to tinker with the GET, wouldn’t the city consider asking them to eye the surcharge as well?

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