Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle made good on his threat to veto the City Council’s budget for a new transit agency, pushing a tense disagreement another step toward litigation just nine days before the new semi-autonomous rail agency officially begins its work.
“This does not mean that the HART board will be running the transit system,” Carlisle said, explaining that the HART board would select an executive director. “This is moving from my hands into their hands.”
Carlisle said if the City Council overrides his veto, the matter could go before a judge. He also pointed out that the decision on whether to go to court may be up to HART, given that the new agency officially takes control of the rail project on July 1.
Both the mayor and City Council have refused to budge on whether the City Council should retain oversight of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation budget. Carlisle said HART should notify the council of its spending plans but ultimately approve its own budget, whereas the council argues that the city charter question that voters approved to create HART explicitly gives it control.
“I am disheartened that the mayor doesn’t seem to be interested in compromise,” City Council member Ikaika Anderson told Civil Beat Tuesday. “The council needs to gather six votes at least to override the mayor’s veto. That could happen in the next council meeting, or it could happen in a special council meeting. Whether or not we’re going to override, I couldn’t tell you.”
Anderson pointed out that Carlisle’s refusal to allow council members’ senior staffers into a press conference he called to announce his vetoes as a sign that the mayor doesn’t want to meet the council in the middle.
“That shows a total lack of compromise and cohesiveness on the part of the administration,” Anderson said. “I’m floored by his lack of cooperation. The man wouldn’t even allow our staffs to sit in on the press conference. I think that’s the administration giving a clear signal that they have no interest in working with the council.”
“Now we may end up in court to have it settled,” City Council member Ann Kobayashi told Civil Beat on Tuesday. “I, for one, feel very strongly that the council should have not control but approval of the budget for the largest public works project ever.”
Neither City Council Chairman Nestor Garcia nor Budget Chairman Ernie Martin could not be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon. Aides for both Martin and Garcia said they were traveling to Maui Tuesday for a Hawaii State Association of Counties meeting.
Martin, who is expected to replace Garcia as council chairman in July, has spoken in blunt terms about the likelihood of suing the administration in order to retain authority over HART’s budget. As Budget Committee chairman, Martin led the way in passing a council version of the agency’s first spending plan.
When HART begins its work on July 1, the city’s rapid transit division will be moved to the new agency. HART’s board is made up of three City Council appointees, three mayoral appointees and three ex-officio members. The eight voting board members — Honolulu Planning and Permitting Director David Tanoue is the board’s sole nonvoting member — will select a 10th board member.
The rail project’s general manager, Toru Hamayasu, dismissed the City Council’s attempts to retain control of the HART budget at an orientation for HART board members earlier this month.
City lawyers represent both the executive and legislative branches of city government, and Carlisle said the administration would not seek private counsel in the event of a lawsuit over HART. Corporation Counsel could not be reached for questions Tuesday afternoon.
Asked whether a lawsuit that could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars would be worth it, Carlisle said without hesitation: “Yes.”
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