Airports authority bill nears final vote

While a bill that would restructure the management of the state’s airports is nearing passage, supporters of the bill fear it is missing terms that would allow it to better serve its purpose.

Senate Bill 2996 will appear before its final committee today. The legislation proposes shifting authority over the state’s airports from the Department of Transportation to a largely independent Airports Corporation.

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However, the current language of the bill removes earlier terms that would, in the eyes of some supporters, provide one of the key benefits of the bill.

Last week, the House Committee on Transportation and the House Committee on Labor and Public Employment removed language from the bill that would make the Hawaii Airports Corporation exempt from the state’s Procurement Code.

Gordon Takaki, president-elect of the Hawaii Island Chamber of Commerce, said allowing the corporation to be exempt from the Procurement Code was one of the key points of the bill, the removal of which will greatly hinder the corporation’s ability to efficiently improve the state’s airports.

“Going through the procurement process takes a too long,” Takaki said. “One of the main benefits was that eliminating the procurement process makes things like construction or renovation quicker.”

The passage exempting the corporation from the Procurement Code was included in the first iteration of the bill. Since then, it has been a sticking point for several organizations and agencies, many of which supported the bill, but advised against the exemption.

“The Procurement Code was put into place in order to avoid irregularities in the expenditure of public money. It serves a good purpose,” wrote Tim Lyons, president of the Subcontractor Association of Hawaii, at a testimony hearing in January. “We have heard few accusations tying the operational aspects of the Procurement Code and the other woes of the airport together.”

Specifically, Lyons and several other organizations — including the State Procurement Office — feared exempting the corporation from the Procurement Code would remove the requirement that prime contractors must list their subcontractors upon bidding for contracts. Removing that requirement could, in turn, lead to less-than-scrupulous contractors shopping or peddling low-bid work to others.

Several organizations offered conditional support for the bill, so long as legislators either added language requiring that subcontractors are listed, or simply removed the exemption. Ultimately, legislators decided upon the latter.

However, Takaki said adherence to the Procurement Code will also slow down any airport-based construction project, which would stifle commerce and delay the improvement of the state’s airports into “world-class airports.”

The bill will appear before its final committee, the House Finance Committee, today. Testimony from residents and organizations regarding the proposal will be heard before the committee makes its final decision.

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If the committee approves the bill, it will go before a final House vote. If it passes that vote, the Senate can raise objections to amendments made to the bill.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com

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