With the Hawaii House and Senate unable to resolve fundamental differences over how to help pay for Honolulu’s beleaguered rail project, Gov. David Ige said Wednesday he will not extend the legislative session unless legislators can reach an agreement.
“I think it would be a waste of time,” Ige said. “They are too divided at this time. I don’t think it would be productive.”
The House wants to enact a 1 percent surcharge on the state’s hotel tax for 10 years to allow the City and County of Honolulu to raise more revenue for rail, currently some $3 billion short of funding to complete all 20 miles and 21 stations of the route.
But the Senate favors a 10-year extension on the general excise tax surcharge already being levied on Oahu taxpayers.
Neither side has shown much desire to budge from their respective positions, and Thursday is the final day of the 2017 legislative session.
The governor’s statement at a Capitol press conference came just hours after Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell told the City Council Budget Committee that he and the three other county mayors had sent a letter to Ige urging him to order the Legislature into special session.
A spokesperson for the mayor said Caldwell had no comment on Ige’s decision not to extend the session.
Caldwell favors the Senate’s position to extend the GET surcharge.
Waiting For A Bill
Ige, a former chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, has been quiet on the rail tax issue this session. Generally, he has been supportive of the rail project, but has also said its financing must be managed responsibly.
Asked if he had spoken with House and Senate leaders about the current stalemate over funding, he said he had not.
Still, the governor said he would consider “any proposal that the Legislature would make” and said he remained committed to seeing the rail project completed. He reiterated his perspective that a combination of county, state and private-sector funding was preferable.
He did not say whether he favored the Senate’s or the House’s position, but he did say he was pleased that the transient accommodations tax plan was scaled back from the initial proposal to increase it by 30 percent.
“I thought that would have a significant impact on the the industry,” he said.
A Little Time Out, Maybe?
Ige said he was hopeful that some agreement on the rail tax bill could be reached by Thursday.
“The bills have been cast, and we will see how we move forward,” he said.
But he also added that a little “time out” might be in order.
Lawmakers attending the press conference Wednesday included Sens. Stanley Chang, Clarence Nishihara and Kai Kahele, and Reps. Kaniela Ing, Matt LoPresti and Chris Todd.
Kahele told reporters afterward that he agreed with the governor that it might be wise for both chambers to “take a pause, take a break and pursue the options after tomorrow.”
“It seems pretty clear that the House and Senate are divided, and I don’t foresee coming up with a solution in the next 24 hours,” he said.
Kahele also said he understood how the public might be disappointed that legislators could not reach agreement, even though they have been in session since January.
If Senate President Ron Kouchi and House Speaker Joe Souki can garner the wide support of their respective membership, the Legislature could also extend the session or call itself into special session.
The Senate floor session on Thursday starts at noon, while the House meets at 1 p.m.
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