The resignation of Tulsi Gabbard from the Honolulu City Council provides an opening, albeit a small one, that a key vote on the city's $5.3 billion rail project could be held up.
According to the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, a full funding grant agreement for the project may not be approved by the federal government until the end of November. Once approved, the City Council must pass a resolution that would allow the FFGA to be signed by the mayor. The city expects the FFGA to be worth $1.55 billion, which would cover 30 percent of the project's cost.
However, if the FFGA is forwarded to the city before Gabbard's replacement can take her seat on Nov. 26, there is the possibility of a 4 – 4 tie.
"Then we may have to defer the matter until we do have that seat filled," said Council Chairman Ernie Martin. "That seat will be filled 20 days after the general election."
Gabbard, a Democrat who's running for Hawaii's Second Congressional District in the U.S. House, said constituents of Council District 6 must weigh the issue of rail before deciding on her replacement.
"That is absolutely going to be a question for the people and the voters of Council District 6," said Gabbard. "I expect it to be a very crowded race, and a very lively one."
Martin is not overly concerned the FFGA could be held in limbo. He said the current Council has been decidedly pro-rail, with many key votes ending up 7 – 2. In June, Tom Berg and Ann Kobayashi were the only councilmembers who voted against using the city's line of credit for rail transit.
However, there are potential pitfalls that could change how some members of the City Council view rail transit.
Two lawsuits, one before the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and another before the Hawaii Supreme Court, could bring construction of the rail project to a halt.
Then there's the candidacy of former two-term Democratic Gov. Ben Cayetano, who has vowed to kill the rail project.