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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, January 24, 2009

Stimulus could revive Honolulu, mayor says

By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer

Honolulu could receive millions of new federal dollars to create "green collar" jobs, hire more police officers, build a third boiler at the H-Power plant and help nonprofit arts agencies if Congress passes a multibillion-dollar stimulus package, Mayor Mufi Hannemann said yesterday.

Hannemann returned from President Obama's inauguration in Washington, D.C., and a meeting of the conference of U.S. mayors where Hannemann and other Island mayors lobbied Hawai'i's congressional delegation for passage of the stimulus package, which includes billions of dollars for "shovel-ready jobs" around the country.

The Obama administration has a " 'use it or lose it' philosophy" to spend the potential additional federal funds within two years "and create immediate relief for the workers," Hannemann said. "They don't want us sitting on that money."

"The arts are a proven economic generator," Hannemann said. If Congress passes the legislation, Honolulu might be able to distribute $100,000 to $200,000 for arts-related, nonprofit groups that have seen job losses, he said.

The city currently receives $8 million in community development block grant projects that could double or triple under the Obama administration, Hannemann said. Honolulu officials also could receive zero-interest loans to improve its wastewater treatment system.

Congress is also considering restoring money that was cut under the Bush administration to fund new police officer salaries for three years. But Hannemann and the other Island mayors "want flexibility" in having to permanently shoulder the cost of the officers' salaries.

The nation's mayors also agreed to hold youth-oriented, Olympic-type events in their cities sometime around the anniversary of the birth of the modern Olympics on June 23.

Honolulu most likely would turn its popular Summer Fun program into a youth Olympics that would include Island Olympians, Hannemann said.

In response to reporters' questions, he blasted a suggestion by some legislators that the state temporarily divert taxes collected on O'ahu for its commuter rail project to help balance the state budget.

He called it a "hair-brained idea" that is most likely illegal and certainly unfair to O'ahu residents.

"It ain't going to go too far," he said.

"Sooner or later, Gov. (Linda) Lingle will come to the conclusion that this is a shovel-ready project that's good to go."

Reach Dan Nakaso at dnakaso@honoluluadvertiser.com.