Controversy surrounding control over HART continues
Honolulu’s rail project is already the most expensive public project the state has ever had. And if the city council and Mayor Carlisle continue to disagree over who controls the project’s operating and capital budgets, it could get a whole lot more expensive for taxpayers.
On Tuesday, June 21, 2011, Mayor Carlisle vetoed four bills approved by the City Council. Two of the bills, related directly to the operating and capital budgets of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) and, if approved, would have given the City Council control over these budgets.
The Mayor insists that HART was formed in an effort to take the politics out of the project and give the separate rail transit authority control over rail finances, while the City Council claims that leaving HART unchecked is irresponsible. Both sides argue that they are protecting the taxpayer. Yet it is the taxpayer that will be footing the bill if this issue goes to court – a consideration since the City Council voted unanimously on Monday, June 27, 2011 to override Mayor Carlisle’s vetoes.
Last week the Mayor said that if there were no compromise on the issue, he would take it to court. Previous city legal battles have proven that the taxpayers are the biggest losers as they end up paying for both sides. Honolulu labor attorney, Michael Nauyokas, told KHON2, that such a case could cost “Many hundreds of thousands of dollars…based on historical litigation that the city’s gotten involved in”.
At least for now, Mayor Carlisle is not pursuing the issue in court. Instead, he says he will see how HART handles its first budget. “Then,” he stated in a recent news conference, “I will evaluate what I do after all of those cards have played out. Let’s see what they do first and then see whether it’s appropriate for me to defer to them or to look towards other legal avenues”. (source)
Both sides continue to claim they are open to compromise, yet neither side has proposed one. Councilman Ikaika Anderson, one of the authors of the budget bills, stated in the same news conference, “I’m very hopeful that a lawsuit can be avoided”. But went on to reaffirm the Council’s position, stating, “The Council is here exercising the authority over appropriations for HART that the voters gave to the Council. We’re here protecting the taxpayers, and I would ask that the mayor respect the Council’s protecting the taxpayers of Honolulu”.
HART, made up of board members chosen by the Mayor and the City Council, forms officially tomorrow, July 1, 2011. But it is still unclear who will control its spending. And it seems the City Council is hoping HART accepts the council’s position. Honolulu Civil Beat quoted City Council Chairman Ernie Martin as stating, “I don’t think we’ve had a chance to really discuss this with the [HART] authority itself. But I think on their part, if they’re willing to give their consent to the fact that the council does retain that right, then there’s really nothing to discuss.”
But HART may not easily acquiesce. In fact, just last month, HART board member and Transportation Services Director, Wayne Yoshioka claimed, “If you look at earlier versions of the charter amendment, they explicitly had council approving the budget. Whereas, as the thing moved forward, that provision was taken out of the budget”. (source)
Time – the decisions made by the newly formed rail transit authority, the Council’s reaction to them, and the Mayor’s subsequent response – will tell whether or not this issue will end up in court.