Saturday, February 26, 2011

Cut, Cut, Cut -- Tax, Tax, Tax

Recent samples of governance by Cuts and Taxes, as published in Hawaii Reporter

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Reckless Spending -- Panos' Version

Thomas Sowell wrote a great article on Reckless Spending in Real Clear Politics. I copied his article below and modified it for our Honolulu rail situation. The bold words are my edits to Sowell's article. Small world really... Washington reckless spending and Honolulu reckless spending is one and the same.


Nothing more clearly illustrates the utter irresponsibility of Peter Carlisle than his advocacy of "rail." The man is not stupid. He knows how to use words that will sound wonderful to people who do not bother to stop and think.

High-speed rail may be feasible in parts of Europe or Japan, where the population density is much higher than in Hawaii. But, without enough people packed into a given space, there will never be enough riders to repay the high cost of building and maintaining a high-speed rail system.

Building a rail system between Kapolei and Honolulu may sound great to people who don't give it any serious thought. But we are a more spread-out country than London, Paris or Tokyo.

However little Mayor Carlisle knows or cares about economics, he knows a lot about politics-- and especially political rhetoric. "Rail" is simply word to justify continued expansion of government spending. So are words like "investment in education" or "investment" in any number of other things, which serves the same political purpose.

Who cares what the realities are behind these nice-sounding words? Carlisle leave that to the economists, the statisticians and the historians. His point is to win the votes of people who know little or nothing about economics, history or statistics. At the same time that Carlisle held his fake "ceremonial groundbreaking," he also blanketed his supporters with $150 to $1,000 per person Election 2012 fundraiser solicitation!

To talk glibly about spending more money on "rail" when the national debt has just passed a milestone, by exceeding the total value of our annual output, for the first time in more than half a century, is world-class chutzpa. The last time the U.S. national debt exceeded the value of our entire annual output, it was due to the cost of fighting World War II.

When World War II ended, in less than four years of American participation, we began paying down the national debt. But our current national debt has been expanding by leaps and bounds in peacetime-- and with no sign of an end in sight for the next decade.

Since more than 40 percent of our national debt is owed to foreigners, this means that goods and services produced by Americans, equal in value to more than 40 percent of our current output, will have to be sent overseas, free of charge, by either this generation or the generations that follow.

Since the generations that follow cannot vote today, the Obama administration's latest budget keeps the spending increasing, while regaling us with wonderful plans for big reductions in government spending-- years from now, after Obama is gone.

Make no mistake about it, spending wins votes, and votes are the ultimate bottom line for politicians. If fancy words and lofty visions are enough to get the voters to go along with more spending, then expect to hear a lot of fancy words and lofty visions.

One of the most successful political ploys is to promise people things without having the money to pay for them. Then, when others want to cut back on the things that have been promised, blame them for lacking the compassion of those who wrote the checks without enough money in the bank to cover them.

If all else fails, politicians can always say that we can pay for the things they promised us by raising taxes on "the rich." However, history shows that, when tax rates go up to very high levels, people put more of their money in tax shelters, so the government ends up collecting less revenue than before.

But history is so yesterday. What is far more exciting is to think of rail in the future, even if it is speeding us toward bankruptcy.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Dallas Light Rail: Costs Up, Ridership Down

Time and again mainland cities shine a (dark) light on Honolulu's future with rail. Of course given our tiny population size and huge rail construction costs, the actual consequences will be far worse for Honolulu than these "achievements" of the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART), as summarized by the National Center for Policy Analysis:

  • The fixed-route (bus and rail) ridership on DART is less than it was 10 years ago, despite population in the service area growing 17 percent since 2000.
  • In that same period, DART has collected almost $4 billion in local sales taxes and hundreds of millions of federal tax dollars on a system that makes hardly a dent in area traffic congestion.
  • DART's staff has grown from just under 2,800 employees in 2000 to 3,900 in 2010, an increase of 39 percent.
  • For comparison, the Dallas district of the state Transportation Department -- which includes seven counties with a population of more than 4 million and oversees almost 11,000 lane miles of highways -- has fewer than 1,000 employees.
  • DART's operating expenses from 2000 to 2010 grew from $242 million to $402 million, a growth of 66 percent to operate a system with declining ridership.
  • Meanwhile, as predicted, the agency has reduced the number of bus miles to force ridership onto the light rail system, in many cases making the commute last longer for the regular rider.
  • Every time a rider stepped on a rail car or bus in 2010, local taxpayers were paying a $4.45 subsidy for that ride, compared with $2.94 in 2000.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Reject the “Jobs” Justification for Transportation Projects

I fully agree with Robert Poole's article which in part reads as follows:
  • On a tour of China, government officials took renown economist Milton Friedman to a major construction site, where Dr. Friedman expressed surprise at seeing legions of workers digging away with shovels. When his host responded that a major purpose of the project was to create jobs, Friedman replied that if that was the case, they should equip the workers with spoons instead of shovels.
  • That point was underscored in a report issued last month by the Bipartisan Policy Center. “Strengthening Connections Between Transportation Investments and Economic Growth”, written by economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin and civil engineering and urban planning expert Martin Wachs.
  • Instead of focusing on short-term construction job-creation, the authors argue for a focus on long-term returns from infrastructure investment. “Over the long-term, higher productivity—the ability to generate more output and income from each dollar of capital or hour of work—is the key to higher labor earnings and improved standards of living,” they write.
  • Hence, infrastructure policy should select projects that do the most to enhance long-term productivity—as did the creation of the Interstate Highway System, which dramatically lowered the cost of personal and freight transportation, leading to the world’s most productive logistics system.
Speaking of highways, three California Congressmen are asking that the funds of the California high speed boondoggle be diverted to correct the ills of SR 99. Part of their positions is as follows:
  • The economic and environmental benefits of SR 99 improvements are strongly contrasted by the uncertainty of California’s now infamous bullet train, which has been described by the national press as “the train to nowhere.” Providing the state the option to redirect high speed rail funding to SR 99 will give state and local leaders the opportunity to step-back from what is likely to become a bottomless pit of spending.
The bottom line is government needs to invest taxes in productive and necessary infrastructure. For Hawaii this means road repairs, water and sewer line repairs, and airport and harbor upgrades within our ability to borrow and pay. All these are necessary projects and with proper scheduling and financing they can get done without breaking the citizens' backs.

The airport modernization, and the Middle Street merge fix projects that Gov. Abercrombie wants to do should be done asap. The Mufi/Carlsisle rail boondoggle needs to be thrown in the trash. The accumulated rail funds should be used immediately for the Middle Street construction, the Honolulu airport upgrades and for the design of the secondary treatment facility mandated by the EPA for our Sand Island effluent treatment plant. Now these are construction and engineering jobs worth paying for.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Albert Einstein and Neil Armstrong Discuss Honolulu's Rail

Click to see my short movie for your infotainment.

Sorry, this very popular animation no longer exists. XTRANORMAL, the free service on which I developed it went out of business.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Did Honolulu City Council Get the Memo from U.S. Congress?

Minutes ago I sent this message to our City Council:

Dear Council Members,

On Tuesday House Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla. said this: “Rather than focusing on the Northeast Corridor, the most congested corridor in the nation and the only corridor owned by the federal government, the Administration continues to squander limited taxpayer dollars on marginal projects.”

By this statement it is clear that:

(1) Mica urges focus on the Northeast Corridor and he does not seem interested in preserving funds for the Florida ("his own") rail project.

(2) If it comes to a choice for Mica between SunRail and Honolulu's rail, he would most likely opt to save SunRail. It does not matter that SunRail is an FRA project and Honolulu Rail is an FTA project. It's all coming from the federal budget, specifically, the Highway Trust Fund. (Indeed, more rail projects does mean more potholes and falling bridges.)

(3) Mica knows that projects are rated good, marginal or poor. He's not interested in marginal and poor projects. Honolulu's overall FTA rating is medium (marginal) and our financial plan is defective and the population projections used to derive ridership are wrong.

At a minimum, the Honolulu City Council must not approve any expenditures on rail construction until the FFGA is concluded and the contribution is the promised $1.85 Billion.

After that point, the responsibility of adding $4 Billion debt onto Oahu taxpayers will be all yours.


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Who Opposes Honolulu Elevated Rail?

Pearl Johnson lists some of the groups opposing the elevated rail proposal in the letter to the editor of the Honolulu Star Advertiser copied below. Quite a few!

Additional groups include the group, the Fix Now Campaign of yours truly and many architects, engineers and planners. Let's not forget that Bishop Estate favors light rail. Also Federal Judges oppose the rail route using Halekawila Street.

The Sierra Club and Blue Planet Foundations have not had time yet to assess the colossal environmental and pollution impact of this boondoggle, but they are welcome to join when they peel off rail's pseudogreen labels and discover all the soot.

Groups oppose elevated rail

Recent media portrayal of the growing opposition to the city's rail transit plan was unfortunately reduced to a political dust-up between former Gov. Ben Cayetano and Mayor Peter Carlisle. It obscured our shared belief that the city's proposed elevated heavy rail project will destroy mauka-makai view planes, create a physical barrier between the city and our famed waterfront and disturb native Hawaiian burial grounds along its right-of-way.

We consequently are united in opposing the construction of an elevated heavy-rail system through historic downtown Honolulu and strongly urge consideration of a less destructive and more neighborhood-friendly system.

"We" includes the League of Women Voters of Honolulu, The Outdoor Circle, Hawaii's Thousand Friends, Life of the Land, Residents Along The Rail, Save Oahu Farmland Alliance, Friends of Makakilo, Hoa'aina o Hawai'i'imiloa of Leeward Community College and Donors of Irwin Park.

Everyone must learn about the realities of the city's plan and the steamroller process that is propelling it. There's much more to come.

Pearl Johnson
League of Women Voters of Honolulu

Monday, February 7, 2011

Where is The Money for The Rail

Where is the Money? is one question everyone should be asking of the Carlisle Administration.

The other is: How dare you start construction with no guarantee of the federal monies?

Today Minneapolis/Saint Paul concluded their funding agreement with the FTA for Light Rail. See article below.

Notes relevant to Honolulu:
  • Twin Cities did not start before they got their money.
  • Their cost is under one billion. Ours is close to six billion for one third the population!
  • They got a 50% match like we got in 1990. Now our match is about 30%.
  • Over the last few days I contacted experts who said that rarely if ever a city starts construction before the Full Funding Grant Agreement is concluded.
  • Except for Honolulu. Mayor Harris and Transit Planner Hamayasu (also in charge of the rail project now) jumped the gun with the BRT. In a case of national embarrassment, the FTA withdrew Honolulu's Record on Decision. (History has a way of repeating itself...)

Hot off the press: Twin Cities’ light rail project clears money hurdle

Minneapolis — The Metropolitan Council and other local agencies finally have the news they have been seeking: The Federal Transit Administration has sent to Congress the grant agreement for the Central Corridor light rail project.

The move launches a 60-day review various officials described as a courtesy, meaning Congress is expected to approve the grant agreement in early April.

That will let the FTA and the Met Council sign the agreement contract that guarantees the federal government will pay for half of the $957 million light rail project. Officials in Washington, D.C., had delayed delivery of the grant agreement several times, but it was not clear why.

The Central Corridor, the biggest public works project in Minnesota history, will connect the downtowns of St. Paul and Minneapolis via an 11-mile route when it opens in 2014.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Rail Will Cost About $3 Billion

I would like to preserve this gem from August 19, 2006 for historical purposes because The Honolulu Advertiser is history and its server may disappear. Please read it and then take a look at my four 2011 updates at the end.



As the City and County of Honolulu proceeds with its analysis of O'ahu's transportation future and holds community meetings to solicit public input, the cost of a proposed fixed guideway is a common topic of discussion.

As is their role, the professional planners and engineers involved in this Honolulu High-Capacity Transit Corridor Project are gathering data, making analyses and evaluations, and preparing recommendations for the City Council, which will make the final selection of a transit alternative later this year. The planners and engineers are envisioning a system where money is not a primary factor, a transit network that accommodates all needs well into the future, a world-class fixed guideway that rivals those of the great cities around the world.

That is not the world in which we live. It is my responsibility to balance needs with resources. This has meant that we've had to make some tough fiscal decisions over the past year-and-a-half, foregoing the nice-to-have for the need-to-have.

The transit system the city ultimately will support will meet our immediate needs and our budget, estimated at around $3 billion. This is called a "minimal operable system" in the parlance of transportation engineering. Yes, a multifaceted, multimodal approach to solving our growing traffic mess falls within the need-to-have, but I want to be careful that we do not exceed our financial limits.

If revenues from the general excise tax surcharge provide more money [1] for our transportation coffers, or if private partnerships [2] generate a major infusion of cash, or if we receive any financial windfalls [3] for mass transit, then we can consider spending more money to expand the system.

Until then, I will continue to insist that we live within our means.[4]

Mufi Hannemann


I inserted four notes in the concluding part to provide 2011 updates:

[1] The surcharge provided over $100 million LESS than expected between 2007 and 2011 and as a result TheBus budget was raided to sore up the "budget."

[2] Hannemann knew he was kidding with this one. No private monies are available for rail transit. Rail projects are money pits. On the contrary, developers are expecting tax breaks (which means taxpayer monies) to develop around stations.

[3] Here the expectations went to the wild side. Windfalls were expected while the 2011 Congress is all about cuts.

[4] The current version of living within our means (as Hannemann put it), or getting our house in order (as Carlisle put it) is furloughing the City's own employees, operating under an EPA mandate that is expected to cost well over $4 Billion, and at the same time pursuing a train that has doubled in cost!

By the way, the Minimum Operating Segment that the letter refers to is now what we present as the planned 20-mile system from Kapolei to Ala Moana Center, the first six miles of which is the train to nowhere starting over half a mile outside Kapolei and ending in Pearl Highlands, going through Oahu's last prime agricultural lands. This video produced by the City shows the destruction of agriculture and the prevailing low densities that are inappropriate for elevated heavy rail. The picture below shows the destruction of Waipahu.