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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, February 1, 2010

Pointless rail spat wastes public resources

The only way the mayor and the governor seem to communicate these days is through dueling media gatherings. You'd think Punchbowl Street was as wide as the Pacific for all the actual face-to-face meetings these two chief executives have.

If it weren't about something as important as the rail project, it would be easy to write the whole thing off as election-year melodrama. But there are real jobs, real economic issues in play here, and that makes watching the Linda Lingle and Mufi Hannemann wrestling match an unnerving ordeal.

Isn't there anyone at the Federal Transit Administration, perhaps who can make these people sit down and talk to each other?

To sum up: Gov. Lingle has signaled that she won't sign off on the environmental impact statement for the city's rail project until she commissions an independent analysis of tax revenue projections for the project, revenues that have slowed during the economic downturn.

She points to FTA documents in which the feds tell city officials that they'll have to refine their financial plan to pass muster during a later phase of development that has stricter fiscal rules.

"Some elements of the current financial plan may not fare well in the stress tests that FTA will apply to evaluate robustness" once the project begins final design, wrote Leslie Rogers, regional FTA administrator.

Mayor Hannemann knows all this he said as much during one of the press conferences and rightly points out that the city is already preparing to refine that plan with projected savings from lower contract bids. When jobs are scarce, contractors are ready to deal.

Large transit projects routinely involve checking and rechecking of the financial plan. Lingle has not made a compelling case that it's her role to do one at this stage, or that it serves anyone's purpose to take her time at it, as she's also vowed to do.

Meanwhile, politics is deeply entwined with the whole mess. The right venue to resolve this is not in a mayoral press conference, or during an informal Q&A with the governor at a national GOP convention in town.

It would be in face-to-face meetings or conference calls with one objective: to settle their differences for the good of the taxpayer and to restore the public's confidence in their ability to oversee this massive project.

The public has the right to expect no less from two of Hawai'i's top public executives.