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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Saturday, June 18, 2005

Transit spending waits for plan

By Mike Leidemann
Advertiser Transportation Writer

The city won't spend any new tax money on mass transit until a specific plan — including the type, financing and route — is in place, officials pledged yesterday.

What's more, Mayor Mufi Hannemann said he'll set up a special transit fund to guarantee new tax revenues will be spent only on transit, as required by state law.

Yesterday's announcements were designed to address public complaints and encourage "transparency and accountability" as the City Council moves forward with plans to increase the state excise tax to pay for a proposed mass transit system, said City Council Chairman Donovan Dela Cruz.

"We think this new language will be more palatable to the council and to the public," he said.

Earlier this month, the council delayed a vote on the excise tax surcharge after public testimony and some council members focused on the question of raising taxes before the public knows specifically what the money will be used for.

The revised bill, which is scheduled to be heard by the City Council on July 6, says no tax surcharge money can be used until the council has received "an operational, financial, development and route plan for the locally preferred alternative" for transit improvements.

"This assures the public that no spending will be done on transit until we have a concrete financial plan and a concrete route plan and we know the federal government has committed federal funds to it," said council member Rod Tam.

Hannemann pledged in a letter to the council to set up the special transit fund for surcharge revenues, federal transit funds and other money dedicated to a transit project.

"The city can be assured that the revenues ... will be used as they are intended," he said.

The Legislature this year approved a bill granting counties the authority to increase the excise tax by 12.5 percent — from 4 percent to 4.5 percent — and use the money for transportation-related projects. The bill is awaiting action by Gov. Linda Lingle.

Reach Mike Leidemann at 525-5460 or mleidemann@honoluluadvertiser.com.