Rail bailout bill passes House Transportation and Finance Committees
The bill to bailout Honolulu Rail passed the House Transportation and Finance Committees Wednesday night.
HONOLULU - The bill to bailout Honolulu Rail passed the House Transportation and Finance Committees Wednesday night. Senate Bill 4 would extend the General Excise Tax (GET) and raise the transient accommodations tax (TAT) by 1-percentage point to help pay for rail.
"The measure we're about to pass is a balanced approach," said Rep. Henry Aquino (D- Waipahu), Chairman of the House Transportation Committee.
The bill passed the House Transportation Committee in a 4-2 vote. The state representatives who voted "yes" include Rep. Aquino, Rep. Nadine Nakamura (D- Kapaa), Rep. Bob McDermott (R- Ewa Beach), and Rep. Joy San Buenaventura (D- Puna), who voted yes with reservations.
Representatives who voted "no" include the Vice Chair of the House Transportation committee, Rep. Sean Quinlan (D-Haleiwa) and Rep. Tom Brower (D- Waikiki).
Before the vote in the House Finance Committee, several committee members took a moment to express their opposition.
"If we're going to do it, let's do it correctly, let's do it properly, let's not have the past predict the future, because we have divided the state," said Rep. Gene Ward (R- Hawaii Kai).
The bill passed 8-6 in the House Finance Committee. The representatives who voted "yes" include Finance Committee Chair, Rep. Sylvia Luke (D- Makiki), Co-Chair, Rep. Ty Cullen (D- Royal Kunia), Rep. Kyle Yamashita (D- Pukalani), Rep. Cedric Gates (D- Waianae), Rep. Jarrett Keohokalole (D- Kaneohe), Rep. Matthew LoPresti (D- Ewa), Rep. Nadine Nakamura (D- Kapaa), Rep. Daniel Holt (D- Kalihi).
Finance committee members who voted no include Rep. Romy Cachola (D- Kalihi Kai), Rep. Lynn Decoite (D- Haiku), Rep. Bertrand Kobayashi (D- Waialae), Rep. Nicole Lowen (D- Kailua-Kona), Rep. Andria Tupola (R- Ewa Villages), and Rep. Ward.
The decision came after at least 5-hours of passionate testimony for and against the bill.
"We are definitely a pro-rail organization,we're not one opposing the use of the TAT, because we're anti-rail," said Mufi Hannemann, CEO of the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association.
Hannemann urged lawmakers to consider lowering the TAT after 13-years. He also urges HART to allow people to start riding rail as soon as possible.
"The reason why I'm so against this 1% increase is that if you all had done your job, to fix the law after the supreme court decision, you would have already been receiving more than twice the revenue from that fix," said Mike White, Maui Council Chair.
Aside from serving as Maui Council Chair, White is also a hotel manager in Kaanapali. White said during the hearing, the state passed up an opportunity to collect TAT from travel giants like Expedia and Travelocity after a 2015 supreme court decision that decided the law as it stands says the companies only have to pay the GET.
"The reason they're not required to pay the TAT is that they're not operators," explained White.
In the end, lawmakers in both committees decided to move the bill forward without changes. The bill now goes on to the House Floor.