Fix Oahu Now! Panos Prevedouros for Mayor of Honolulu

Let's get to work and Fix Oahu. Now!

Issues

Engineering Solutions for Our City

Traffic, Trash and Taxes:
Key Issues in Panos’ Platform
Traffic, Trash and Taxes in Honolulu are bad, worse and worst respectively.


1. TRAFFIC
There are three main challenges associated with traffic: Traffic congestion, mass transit and paving.

Traffic Congestion
Part of the reason for the severe congestion on Oahu is that the “traffic engineering toolbox” is rarely used. Traffic signals are not synchronized and updated, incidents and accidents are not managed, and freeway bottleneck relief projects are not done. Some of Oahu’s intersections are so congested that a traffic light cannot improve traffic flow. Two-lane underpasses will reduce congestion almost by half and substantially reduce traffic and pedestrian conflicts. In addition, compressed work weeks (4 day, 10 hours per day) and moving UH start times outside the typical commuter peaks will help substantially and immediately.

For the longer term, HOT lanes provide the best efficiency in congestion relief. Even if a small portion of traffic diverts to the HOT lanes and pays a toll (which is congestion insurance because toll payers are guaranteed a trip at 60 miles per hour), traffic is lessened on existing free roads which benefits to those who do not pay. HOT lanes are a double win-win: Win for buses and carpools, and win for both toll-payers and users of the free roads. Longer term, Kapolei, the second city, has to develop as its name implies and become a city of its own. This will diminish the need to commute to Honolulu. A large campus, a large shopping mall and affordable relocation programs for small businesses can accomplish this in the foreseeable future.

Mass Transit
Oahu leads the nation in carpooling and has a high public bus use.

A proper policy capitalizes on these strengths and makes them stronger. A HOT lane facility is a transit expressway in which all buses, vanpools and large carpools go for free. That’s the HO in HOT (high occupancy). HOT could also be short for high occupancy transitway. About 100 buses and 500 vanpools have roughly twice the passenger capacity of the proposed rail but they use the capacity of only one half of a freeway lane. There is a lot of room on a two or three lane reversible HOT expressway for low occupancy vehicles. These are welcome, but need to pay a toll to control the number of entries. This is needed so that the transitway always flows congestion free. As a result, an express bus can go from Waikele to downtown in 15 minutes.

With HOT lanes, the same express bus can do two trips in the same time that an express bus does the trip today. This doubles bus frequency at little extra cost. Buses will have a priority viaduct that takes them directly to downtown, and then there will be a Bus Rapid Transit system running along King and Beretania streets. As a result, Kapolei to the UH can be done in 45 minutes by bus, instead of 75 minutes by rail and do so at one quarter the cost of rail.

Pavement Programs
Paving on Oahu is terrible. In fact it’s the second worst in the nation. City roadway paving is much worse than that of state highways because of years of neglect. We must stop applying the half-inch pavement overlay treatments that cost tens of millions but last only through the next election, if we’re lucky. Our paved streets are in need of expensive but durable rehabilitation. The city must allocate the proper resources and create a plan for routine and periodic pavement maintenance.

2. TRASH
Oahu is in a solid waste disposal crisis and under a billion dollar lawsuit from the Environmental Protection Agency for its lack of secondary sewage treatment.

Solid waste disposal
Nearly a million residents and thousands of tourists produce a lot of trash. H-Power reduces a lot but we still wind up with 20% flyash. We need modern waste processing plants with 98% efficiency. There are facilities in Germany and Japan located inside the cities. They are clean and they produce such useful products such as reusable glass, metal, plastic and even stone pebbles. Some are able to provide electricity. None are cheap to install or operate, but they are essential infrastructure for sustainable cities. Once a couple of modern trash management factories are installed, Waimanalo Gulch must close.

Meanwhile, a much larger effort in curbside recycling is required to reduce what goes into Waimanalo Gulch. Those residents directly affected by Waimanalo Gulch should be provided with relocation opportunities and assistance. This is a complex, expensive and divisive issue that needs the best scientific information and comprehensive local input.

Sewers
The second crisis is sewer lines and sewage treatment. The city has made inadequate progress in replacing old and bursting sewer lines. One result was the “fountain of disgust,” caused by the release of millions of gallons of untreated sewage into the Ala Wai Canal. This created a major threat to public health and endangered the reputation of tourism in Waikiki. Secondary treatment is important for Oahu. There have been several threats to water quality and public health at Waikiki and Kailua beaches, in Kaneohe Bay and other locations.

Honolulu is among the 1% of cities in the U.S. that do not have secondary sewage treatment. The current administration is gambling on a judge’s ruling in the suit that the Environmental Protection Agency has brought against the city. It is time to negotiate a sustainable long-term plan with the EPA and bring Oahu into compliance. On July 1, 2008, Oahu federal judge Ezra said “It is much more important to fix the sewers than to put in a light rail system.”

3. TAXES
Oahu taxpayers are among the heaviest taxed individuals in the United States. In four short years, tax collections under Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann went from $1.365 billion during the last fiscal year under then Mayor Jeremy Harris to $1.990 billion under Hannemann, a whopping 46% increase. Did you notice any part of city services improve by 46%? Sewer fees were increased 18% effective July 1, 2008.

Property Taxes
The City & County of Honolulu is responsible for real property tax on commercial and residential properties. Oahu property owners received their latest real property tax bill in the last few days indicating how much they must pay by August 20. Most people on Oahu have seen significant increases in the actual amount of tax they are called upon to pay.

Commercial property owners who pay a rate higher than residential property owners have also seen a big jump in their property tax, which is passed on to the businesses and non-profits renting from them in the form maintenance fees. Those increased costs are then passed onto the customer, or absorbed by the business or non-profit if they cannot be passed on. With commercial property taxes and other city fees at an all time high, many businesses and non-profits are closing because they cannot afford to stay in business any longer. That contributes to the state’s increasing unemployment numbers.

General Excise Surcharge for Rail
The City added an additional 12.5 percent surcharge to the state’s General Excise Gross Income Tax in January 2007 – the largest single tax increase in Hawaii’s history – to fund Oahu’s proposed $6 billion rail system from Kapolei through Honolulu. Actually, the mayor pleaded with the legislature for the authority to double the surcharge. Since the enactment of the additional GE tax, Oahu taxpayers, individuals, families and small businesses have paid out an additional $250 million to the city, which is being used to fund the rail system. Taxpayers will also need to fund the operation, maintenance and repairs on the rail system, which will be millions more a year.

Some experts estimate that if the rail transit is built, property taxes could rise an additional 40 percent to pay for the project. Sewer fee increases Oahu taxpayers will be responsible for repairs, improvements and replacement of the county’s aging sewer system, which will amount to more than $1 billion. Motor vehicle registration fees have increased dramatically along with sewer fees, which will rise 18 percent this year.

Debt
Many of the city’s long-term projects and infrastructure are secured by selling general obligation bonds, also ultimately the responsibility of county taxpayers. Just the repayment of principle and interest on existing bonds accounts for more than 15 percent of the city’s budget. Additional demands for projects like the rail transit will guarantee that the burden for Oahu taxpayers will increase. Even with the hope that the federal government will somehow provide more money for the city (more money for any other transportation project in history besides New York) the point is that “federal money” still comes from the taxpayers.

Setting Debt Limits
The Tax Foundation of Hawaii makes a good recommendation about adjusting the debt limit for the city budget. “For fiscal year 2008, total real property valuations for determining the counties' debt limits were roughly $250 billion. The debt limit calculated under the current constitutional formula would allow the counties to issue as much as $37.5 billion of debt. While it is doubtful that the counties would issue debt of that magnitude, the problem is that the limit is so generous, and the potential for borrowing that amount exists. In fact, in some cases, the liberal use of debt has stretched the resources of the county to the point that a larger portion of that county's operating budget is going toward the repayment of debt. Too large a percentage of that budget going to debt service will mean that other expenditures in the budget will suffer or real property taxes will be increased to cover the shortfall. There is no doubt that the county debt limit needs a review, which could be done should a constitutional convention be approved by the voters this year.”

Fiscal Discipline Needed
The city budget is already bursting with generous increases provided for city workers and law enforcement as well as funding the costs for emergency sewer replacement, road repairs, trash disposal and debt service. It is time for the citizen taxpayer who foots the bill for all of these taxes, fees and debt, to make a significant change in the leadership of the city and to recognize that city budgets and expenditures, projects must be tied to the ability of Oahu taxpayers to pay. Taxes and fees are set by the city and can be changed by a more fiscally responsible and taxpayer friendly administration.

I pledge to be that mayor who practices strict fiscal discipline and respects the taxpayers' every dollar.

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