Like A Bad Toothache, Rail Woes Throb

MidWeek (Hawaii) - - Front Page - MOSTLY POL­I­TICS Dan Boy­lan

Re­vis­it­ing rail is like re­mem­ber­ing a toothache that has never gone away. It’s Honolulu’s big hurt of the first decade of the 21st cen­tury. It aches and aches and aches, and no one ap­pears with ei­ther a sy­ringe full of Novo­cain — or take away the pain.

It started well. In 2004, Mufi Han­ne­mann as­sumed t h e mantl e worn b y a half-dozen may­ors be­fore him as the chief pro­po­nent of Honolulu’s rail tran­sit project. He worked his magic on state leg­is­la­tors, per­suad­ing them to raise the state ex­cise a half-per­cent to fund the 20mile elevated track.

A mere half-per­cent. Who could ar­gue with that? The folks at home would hardly feel it, and smil­ing, sun­burned t ourists would be pay­ing 25-33 per­cent with their pur­chases of sun­tan oil, mac nuts, loud aloha shirts and Kona cof­fee. Lit­tle pain, lots of gain, and vis­i­tors from far and wide pick­ing up part of the tab.

And the time was right (ripe might be a bet­ter word). The econ­omy stag­nated, and the on­set of the Great Re­ces un­em­ploy­ment rates higher. Con­struc­tion work­ers were particularly hard hit.

In 2010, Mayor Mufi de­cided to move on — across Punch­bowl Street t o t he fifth floor of the Capi­tol. Un­for­tu­nately for him, a con­gress­man sit­ting in faroff Wash­ing­ton also wanted the gov­er­nor­ship. Neil Aber­crom­bie got it.

mer city man­ag­ing direc­tor and a true be­liever in a full 20 miles of rail, won the top job at Honolulu Hale.

But even true be­liev­ers would suf­fer with rail. A half- per­cent shared with tourists might lessen the bur­den, but oh, how that bur­den grew — and grew, and grew. From $5 bil­lion to $6 bil­lion-some­thing to $8 bil­lion to, did I hear $10 bil­lion? Maybe more?

Those num­bers turned the well-coiffed, Sig Zane-shirted, whip-smart Kirk Cald­well into a beg­gar, cross­ing and re-cross­ing Punch­bowl, tak­ing punches on both sides of the street as he asked for more money.

He got “you again?” stares from the lady chairs of the money com­mit­tees. Some ac­cused him of … well, ly­ing to them. He per­se­vered (whined a bit, to be sure) but took his lumps, and went back.

Rail op­po­nents per­se­vered as well. The grand poohbah of t r ans­porta­tion l ore at Panos Preve­douros, spoke and wrote wher­ever asked in op­po­si­tion, ar­gu­ing that Honolulu’s traf­fic woes could be solved by, among other things, bet­ter tim­ing of traf

Former Gov. Ben Cayetano, an op­po­nent of rail from his state se­nate days, chal­lenged Cald­well’s re­elec­tion in 2016, lost, then took out an ad­ver­tise­ment in The Wash­ing­ton Post urg­ing the feds not to send the $1.5 bil­lion promised to help Honolulu’s rail. Now that’s op­po­si­tion!

So t h e b e g g a r - mayor crossed Punch­bowl again this past ses­sion, was pum­meled, and hur­ried back to Honolulu Hale. And the leg­is­la­tors pum­meled each other, re­or­ga­nized, and shouted, “Ex- tend the half-per­cent!” Or, “Raise the ho­tel-room tax 1 per­cent!”

Then the leg­is­la­tors went home. Gov. Ige said, “Let ’em all cool off.” They did, and Ige called them back for be­gan with a plan. “Give the lyin’ beg­gar-mayor his $2.37 bil­lion, a lotta ex­cise tax, a lotta ho­tel room tax.” There was ju­bi­la­tion. Hand­shakes. Even wine.

But the mayor showed up, say­ing, “It’s not enough. I need $600 mil­lion more.”

“What?!!!” said a leg­is­la­tor. Voices were raised along with the glasses. A drunk, ac­cord­ing to the mayor, was heard. The mayor walked out.

And the great Honolulu toothache con­tin­ues to throb.

Mayor Kirk Cald­well

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