Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle says he’s been the man with the plan when it comes to the city’s rail transit project.

Speaking with reporters in his office Tuesday, Carlisle announced his veto of bills introduced by the City Council, which aimed to secure the council’s oversight of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation‘s budget. He said HART was established to ensure rail policy decisions would be in the hands of professionals — not politicians. If the council had control of the budget, it would restrict HART’s independence, he said.

“Right now, the decision-making process regarding the rail project has remained in the hands of the mayor,” Carlisle said. “This is moving it from my hands into their hands, and they take with them a single person who will be making those decisions who will be a person who is the executive officer of that board.”

In a nutshell, Carlisle said he’s had the power regarding rail decisions, and that he’ll pass that power onto HART’s executive officer come July 1, when the authority officially forms. His comment more than implies that the council has been removed from the rail process, not to mention other state and federal agencies and entities.

Are Carlisle’s comments accurate?

The reality is that there would be no rail if voters didn’t give it the go-ahead in the first place. The council also played a pivotal role, approving a 0.5 percent general excise tax hike in 2005 to pay for the project. So Carlisle is being misleading when he says the decision-making process has remained in the mayor’s hands.

In fact, in Carlisle’s first eight months as mayor, there have been several specific instances of decisions by other individuals and agencies that kept rail alive.

Some examples include:

  • On June 3, the council approved a bill authorizing the issuance of $104 million in general obligation bonds in order to raise money for rail. According to the updated financial plan for the project, rail “required” debt financing for the costly early phases of construction. In May, Budget and Fiscal Services Director Mike Hansen told council members, “The build-out is going to be over the next seven years, so we need to get that cash… We need to finance… until we get some of that cash from the excise surcharge.”

  • On Dec. 16, city officials received a signed copy of the Final Environmental Impact Statement from Gov. Neil Abercrombie. With his signature, the governor cleared the way for rail. Without the governor’s approval, the project could not have advanced.

  • On Jan. 18, the Federal Transit Administration issued a Record of Decision allowing the first stages of rail construction to begin. Again, without that decision from the FTA, rail could not have gone forward.

Carlisle has been paramount in keeping the rail project afloat, and will continue to be. But to say that the decision-making for rail has solely been in the hands of the mayor is inaccurate.

The Bottom Line

There is some part of Carlisle’s claim that can be supported in the sense that many of the decisions regarding rail lay in the mayor’s hands.

However, given that the project would be an impossibility without the support of Hawaii’s governor, the city council and the FTA. Carlisle is inflating his importance. There is some truth to his statement, but not much.

Civil Beat rates the mayor’s claim “Barely True.”