State Highway Improvement Bill Scrapped… So Much for $524 Million for the Big Island

The Hawaii Legislature has killed the $4.2 billion highway modernization plan rolled out by the governor and influential legislative leaders earlier this year.

Senate Bill 1611, which was supported by Republican Gov. Linda Lingle and top Senate Democrats, failed to pass a conference committee deadline Friday.

SB 1611 called for increasing the state fuel tax, vehicle weight tax, registration fees and rental vehicle surcharges over the next several years.

State officials said SB 1611 would cost the average Hawaii driver about $170 more a year. No one is saying why the bill died, but it’s likely that neither Lingle nor legislators had the desire to push a package of tax increases on top of the ones already proposed by the Legislature to balance the state budget.

Many Hawaii businesses, especially those that rely on vehicle fleets, opposed the measure.

But Hawaii Department of Transportation officials said the tax and fee increase would actually save business money by reducing travel time and maintenance costs.

The money raised by the tax and fee hikes would be supported by $1.5 billion from the state highway budget and $500 million in federal funds.

One sticking point over SB 1611 was whether the increases would go into effect only after the state experienced two consecutive quarters of at least 1 percent economic growth, pushing off the start to at least 2011.

Lingle advocated that position, but some lawmakers said it was not practical.

The highways modernization plan listed 183 projects on Hawaii’s six largest islands. They include widening of highways, building bypasses, and protecting shorelines.

The bill could be revived during the 2010 legislative session.

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