- Associated Press - Thursday, March 5, 2015

HONOLULU (AP) - A state Senate panel on Wednesday approved a bill extending a surcharge on the general excise tax that Honolulu imposes to raise money for its rail line.

But the Senate Ways and Means Committee trimmed the proposed extension by 20 years, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser (http://bit.ly/1wISNZ0 ) reported. The bill now extends the tax for five years instead of 25 as proposed earlier.

The committee voted 8-to-2 to pass the amended measure.

The bill faces several more hurdles in the state Legislature. If it’s passed by the full Senate, it will go to the House for consideration.

The tax is a surcharge on the state’s general excise tax. It’s currently scheduled to expire in 2022.

Committee Chairwoman Sen. Jill Tokuda said the five-year extension would get the project out of a “funding hole” so it may complete the 20-mile, 21-station route to Ala Moana Center. A five-year extension would also leave the project about an additional $192 million.

The move, however, would deny the city 20 more years of rail tax collections to build route extensions to University of Hawaii, Manoa campus and to downtown Kapolei.

“Five years gives us enough,” Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell told Tokuda. “But I don’t want to be back in five years, whether I’m here or not” needing another vote on funding for route extensions. To put the community through that kind of pain would be difficult, he said.

Besides, Caldwell added, “If you listen to everyone in this community, they say it’s crazy” that the rail route doesn’t go to Manoa.

Tokuda, who represents Kailua and Kaneohe, told rail leaders and Caldwell those are separate issues from why they came to the Senate, which was to seek an extension to the surcharge so they may finish building the rail line.

Tokuda noted that the route extensions haven’t received official approvals from city elected leaders or federal transit officials.

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Information from: Honolulu Star-Advertiser, http://www.staradvertiser.com

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