UPDATED 6/27/11 2:52 p.m.

Undeterred by Mayor Peter Carlisle, the Honolulu City Council on Monday voted unanimously to override his vetoes and approve its own versions of the annual operating and capital budgets for the semi-autonomous rail authority.

“It comes down to retaining the City Council’s authority to review, approve and amend the budget as the council deems necessary,” said incoming City Council Chair Ernie Martin in a special City Council meeting.

UPDATE: But Carlisle, who previously vowed to challenge the council in court if necessary, is backing off to let the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation decide what to do about the council’s interpretation of its role. HART officially begins its work on Friday.

Carlisle said the City Council is “trying to keep their hands on the pursestrings,” but that HART should be given “the opportunity to decide what they want to do.”

But he also acknowledged there’s still the “potential of a lawsuit.” In vetoing Bills 33 and 34 [pdfs] last week, Carlisle said voters wanted HART to be free from politics.

Carlisle and Managing Director Doug Chin have pointed to the text of the City Charter and guidance from the city’s attorney that say the council doesn’t have the power to amend the HART budgets.

Martin, in encouraging his colleagues to “overwhelmingly” override the mayor’s vetoes, said the council has received its own legal opinions telling them they do have that power. He also said the council is the city’s law-making body and has been clear and consistent in statements that the intent was always to have the council retain appropriation power over HART.

Martin indicated he still hopes to avoid litigation despite the mayor’s threats.

“We wish to avoid a costly legal battle,” he said, adding that he hopes to have a conversation with the mayor about reaching a compromise.

Incoming City Council Vice Chair Ikaika Anderson struck a more aggressive tone.

“With regards to the HART issue, it seems that this administration is more interested in confrontation than compromise,” Anderson said. “We cannot stand by and let the will of the voters be overrun. We must override this veto.”

The inaugural HART meeting is set for 8 a.m. Friday, and the agenda [pdf] includes the adoption of the operating and capital budgets. Now, board members will have to decide which versions to adopt — or if they’ll amend the budgets to their own liking.

—Adrienne LaFrance contributed to this story.

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