Senate passes rail tax bill on 16-9 vote - Honolulu, Hawaii news, sports & weather - KITV Channel 4

Senate passes rail tax bill on 16-9 vote

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County council members from neighbor islands watch the debate. County council members from neighbor islands watch the debate.

Impassioned pleas to force the House to negotiate and come up with a better rail bill fell on deaf ears. After nearly two hours of debate the Senate closed its side of the deal.

That deal hikes the hotel room tax by a percent for 13 years to help Honolulu build the rail route to Ala Moana Center.

It also extends the half percent excise until 2030 to make up for a $3 billion shortfall on a price tag for rail that has doubled in price.

 “We have a difficult decision before us. we also have an opportunity to make clear that we do not support a blank check that would be shouldered on our working families and children,” said Sen. Jill Tokuda.

But one lawmaker who called it a budget-busting boondoggle, said a yes vote would do precisely that.

"We are adding billions of dollars on the backs of people," said Sen. Gil Riviere.

Riviere isn't the only one who sees a spending problem.  He called it a black hole sucking up money that could go to help other priorities.

Others struggled with their vote calling the bill bad public policy

“It pains me to vote no. I truly wish I could vote yes but my conscience will not allow me to do that," said Sen. Breene Harimoto

Others are troubled by the process calling it an embarrassment to the Democratic process.

“This bill was crafted behind closed doors and presented to us with instructions that there be no changes, before we ever heard from the public," said Sen. Russell Ruderman.

"This session is five days long to pass a bill for over $2 billion. Give me a break for super ferry session was 9 days long. They were informational briefings on four islands. We are raising the TAT state wide and we haven't had a single hearing on the neighbor Islands," said Sen. Lauren Thielen.

“Don't kid yourself, don't kid the people. We could be here for a couple of weeks and get this straight.  We are condemning ourselves to a position that will have ramifications for years and we will not be able to help people because of it,” said Sen. Josh Green.

"Vote no on this bill, and force the House to come with us to solve the problem. Be totally transparent," urged Green.

But the majority of senators stuck to leadership’s script to pass the bill out unamended.

"We need to complete this for the sake of Oahu, for Honolulu's economy, and for future generations. Our backs are against the wall," said Sen. Will Espero.

The county councils, who are united against the bill, were disappointed that lawmakers ignored their fears about how the room tax could affect their fragile economies.

“They have not done their homework they have not given the neighbor Islands an opportunity to speak with them before they crafted this terrible bill that will affect our poor people," said Big Island County Council Chair Val Poindexter.

The fight now turns to the House, as the bill officially crossed over, following the Senate vote.

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