For all the talk about Honolulu’s rail authority being semi-autonomous, a decision this week indicates that politicians at Honolulu Hale are still in charge when the rubber meets the road.

Under pressure from the Federal Transit Administration to come up with some revenue sources it can tap in an emergency, the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation has decided it’s actually the city that’s ultimately responsible for making sure the system gets built. That’s what we learned from Michael Levine’s story today, based on an interview with HART chief Toru Hamayasu.

The decision should end any speculation about what will happen if HART and the Honolulu City Council disagree over budgetary matters.

Basically, if you’re going to use the city’s good credit to cement the viability of your project in the eyes of the federal government, the city gets to call the shots on how you spend your money if you get into trouble.

Hamayasu and Mayor Peter Carlisle might well prove to be correct that the additional revenue-generating prowess requested by the FTA is never used.

But whether the emergency ever happens is irrelevant, at least in terms of optics and politics.

The admission that HART can’t or won’t stand up on its own and is instead relying on city taxpayers to vouch for the project will give rail opponents more ammunition to raise the specter of what cost overruns would mean for the city’s bottom line.