In an unusual move, two state Senate committees on Thursday elected to not vote on that chamber’s primary “vehicle” for funding the over-budget Honolulu rail project.

Instead, the measure will be so heavily amended that it will require another public hearing.

Sen. Lorraine Inouye, chairwoman of the Transportation and Energy Committee, described the possible changes to Senate Bill 1183 as “substantial.”

The changes, for example, could call for extending Oahu’s 0.5 percent general excise tax surcharge indefinitely — or only to 2032, which is five years from when the surcharge is set to expire.

When Inouye’s committee and another chaired by Sen. Clarence Nishihara heard the bill Monday, the plan was to amend the bill to delete any reference to the state’s 10 percent administrative fee on the surcharge and to replace it with an unspecified dollar amount.

The surcharge would be extended in perpetuity.

Nor would any money from the “skim” go to the state Department of Transportation to help fix and maintain roads and highways. But that idea is still under discussion, too.

Chair Sen Lorraine Inouye announces tabling decision until next week1. 9 feb 2017
Sen. Lorraine Inouye on Thursday at the Capitol outlined an extensive list of possible changes to a bill intended to help fund Honolulu’s rail system. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

SB 1183 might still end up calling for each of those provisions. But it also might not.

Inouye described for reporters and others a lengthy list of other ideas that could find their way into the bill.

They include:

  • the establishment of a tax credit for low-income earners, in recognition of the regressive nature of the GET;
  • allowing all four counties to adopt a county surcharge by July 2018 to help the local governments address their own transportation concerns;
  • the neighbor island surcharges would be “equal or similar” to Oahu’s;
  • the state could be allowed to retain some of the surcharge money to put into the state highway fund;
  • the state could administer all county surcharges, as it currently does for Oahu;
  • part of the surcharge could go to transit-oriented development infrastructure along the rail line;
  • the Hawaii Community Development Authority might transfer some land parcels to the city and the state;
  • there could be the creation of a bus rapid-transit lane to connect central Oahu and the Pearl Highlands rail station;
  • a second access road to Leeward Community College might be built;
  • permitting might be expedited for zoned land within a one-half-mile radius of the rail stations; and
  • money could also be transferred to support education, affordable housing and elder care needs.

In short, Inouye indicated, all of those options are on the table.

What’s more, there could be others by the time the new draft of the bill is ready to be shared publicly sometime Monday.

“You never know what we will end up with come Monday,” Inouye told Civil Beat after Thursday’s announcement. “But it will keep the measure alive.”

What happened between Monday and Thursday to so dramatically revise the bill, she said, was deliberation with colleagues and especially Senate leadership.

Inouye said help for the state’s highway fund was a top concern, as it is unclear whether there will be increases this session to the fuel tax, vehicle weight tax and registration fee. Gov David Ige has requested the hikes, and a Senate bill is set to be heard next week.

But lawmakers also face deadlines to move legislation, the first one next Friday.

Meanwhile, it’s unclear whether the House of Representatives will move on GET surcharge bills in its chamber.

Inouye said there will be a hearing for the revamped SB 1183 on Wednesday and a vote that same day.

Given what’s already transpired over the rail bill debate so far this session, it promises to be quite a hearing.

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