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Fri, Nov 05, 1999 - Page 2 News List

Kaohsiung to vote on MRT project

TRANSIT BUDGET After years of opposition, Mayor Frank Hsieh is hoping for budget approval, but signs are pointing to a city council rejection of the proposal

By George Kuo  /  STAFF REPORTER IN KAOHSIUNG

As an MRT train whizzes through a station in Taipei, residents in Kaohsiung wonder if a proposed mass rapid transit system there will get derailed by politics.

PHOTO: CHEN CHENG-CHANG TAIPEI TIMES

While funding for Kaohsiung City's long-awaited mass rapid transit system will have another chance of receiving approval this month, the prospects don't seem to be getting any better for Kaohsiung Mayor Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) following 10 years of opposition.

Early signs already indicate that Hsieh's budget will be rejected.

The Kaohsiung City Council plans to begin discussing the bud-get for the mass rapid transit system at the committee level on Nov. 11, with the final vote scheduled for Nov. 29.

If this happens, the Executive Yuan will almost certainly cut its funding for the project, dramatically reducing the staff of the Kaohsiung City Government's Department of Rapid Transit Sys-tems.

The Executive Yuan is losing patience with the department, which currently employs 123 people who are waiting for construction to begin.

According to statistics, the Executive Yuan has agreed to fund 69 percent of the proposed NT$195.2 billion budget, so lack of central government support will effectively kill the project.

There are other reasons why this is probably Hsieh's last chance to build the mass transit system.

While real estate prices are relatively low at the moment, they are expected to rise soon, increasing the cost of the land needed for stations along the line.

Furthermore, Taoyuan, Tai-chung and Tainan are waiting on the central government for approval of their own mass rapid transit systems.

A source inside the Department of Rapid Transit Systems said: "If the Kaohsiung City Council cannot pass the budget this month, the chance may go to another city."

Sources close to Hsieh say that if construction does not begin within two years, he will probably see out his term of office and step down.

The city council's main objection to the budget is that it is too vague.

"The information provided by the city government is not clear enough. The budget is more like a rough draft than a financial plan,"said Hong Mao-jun (洪-Z俊), a powerful KMT city councilor.

This is why Hsieh's first budget was rejected in June and, according to Hong, there has been no improvement since.

In the face of opposition from the KMT councilor, Hsieh is going on the offensive, claiming that such criticism is politically motiva-ted.

If Hsieh, the first DPP mayor of Kaohsiung, succeeds in building the line where his KMT predecessors failed, his re-election is almost assured, and the KMT will find it difficult to regain a foothold in Taiwan's second largest city.

Hsieh says this is why local KMT councilors and the central government are against his plan.

However, Hsieh also has enemies within his own party.

Kuo Wen-cheng (3◥3|?/CHINESE>), a popular DPP city councilor, is a known critic of the budget for the mass rapid transit line. However, Kuo declined to comment on his reasons for opposing Hsieh.

As the struggle becomes more intense, Hsieh has turned to the media to publicize his cause.

He has vocally criticized the city council and the central government in the press for using opposition to the project as a weapon against his opponents.

Hsieh has been vigorously canvassing city councilors for support. Rumors of votes being exchanged for favors have risen in turn.

It has been said that Hsieh is giving administrative positions in City Hall to relatives of city councilors in return for their support.

It is very difficult to tell what the result of the Nov. 29 vote will be. Everything depends upon what happens during the next few weeks.

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