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Sorry Oahu, better fix rail mess in house

August 10, 2017 - 7:15am

Pound sand, Oahu.

Lawmakers preparing for meetings prior to a special legislative session being convened later this month to figure out ways to pay for Honolulu’s cash-strapped rail project are kicking around one idea that would have neighbor islands shouldering some of the burden by raising the general excise tax statewide to help pay for it.

And those lawmakers giving the thought credence should walk out to any one of Oahu’s beaches and wail his or her closed fists downward until the silly notion disappears in their exhaustion.

The state is trying to help Oahu make up a $1.4 billion shortfall in the $1 bazillion, er, $10 billion project.

The Legislature plans an Aug. 28-Sept. 1 special session to try to work out a plan, after House-Senate compromise attempts failed to reach consensus in the regular session earlier this year.

Lawmakers are considering five options, most of which have Oahu picking up the tab.

But the option to have Kauai, Maui and Hawaii counties help fund the 20-mile, 21-stop rail line paints the argument that Oahu subsidizes harbors, airports and highways on the neighbor islands as a justification.

It’s the same argument Gov. David Ige tells county mayors every year when they ask for a return of the pre-recession county amount of the transient accommodations, or hotel, tax. The state, the governor explains, pays for a lot that counties don’t, like schools. So it gets, and plans to keep, more of the visitor-fueled tax.

Now neighbor island funds are an option on the emergency menu some lawmakers will lean toward when the special session convenes. It’s almost a misnomer, calling them special sessions. Special, of course, in this case means unique, but special as in especially panicked would be a more suiting description — though unique it still is, too.

Another of the options would hit the Big Island, too. If they raise the statewide TAT while holding the neighbor island cap to $93 million while giving Honolulu all the new excess, that would hit Big Island visitors and locals alike, anytime a local wants to spend the night across island, for example.

The state has no idea what it’s going to do having spent so much capital — federal money — on a project that’s so far behind lawmakers are plum flummoxed. They left the regular session earlier this year no farther down the road — hence the need for the, uh, special one.

Oahu is big brother, we get that. It lands Garth Brooks and Mariah Carey and neighbor islands get Augie T. As we said, the governor pulls the big brother card every year when county mayors come crawling for more TAT money.

But trying to pull it now would be insulting. GET increases hit consumers across the board, and there is nothing less neighbor island residents want to pay for than a rail project most will never use.

The delayed project has turned into an embarrassment, but the Oahu-minded Legislature should try and save what face it can by fixing it in-house. Last on its list should be burning bridges by hooking neighbors with it down the sink.

We suspect it will. We think big brother will buck up and find the money on Oahu, proving to be a a role model to its little siblings floating out at its flanks.

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