Before Thursday, one might have thought Toru Hamayasu or Wayne Yoshioka called the shots when it comes to money for rail.
But if Thursday’s meeting of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation‘s Finance Committee is any indication, HART’s interim executive director and the city’s transportation services director are no longer in charge of the $5.3 billion needed to construct the rail system.
Committee Chair Don Horner is running the show now — and he’s holding the line on rail finance.
Horner, who runs First Hawaiian Bank by day and also chairs the Hawaii State Board of Education, displayed the inquisitive, aggressive and frugal demeanor that has brought him success in the board room. After about two hours in a quiet room with no television cameras and fewer attendees than board members, the transfer of power was complete.
Though the committee had no action items on its agenda and made no formal policy decisions, Horner relished confrontations with Hamayasu, Yoshioka and others. He cracked jokes, flashed a smile and was clearly in his element at the head of the table. He exerted his will over the discussion and got the last word.
In short, he gave a glimpse into the future of the rail authority.
First, the committee reviewed the Fiscal Year 2012 Operating and Capital Budgets passed last month by the HART board. Horner quickly flexed his money muscles.
“For the record, this isn’t a budget,” he told Hamayasu. “A budget where I come from would have revenue. … When you use the term budget to me, it implies it ties back to some plan.”
That plan that everything ties back to, Horner said, should be the April 2011 financial plan submitted to the federal government in support of the city’s $1.55 billion New Starts grant application. The April 2011 version is just the latest in a string of such financial plans, and there will be subsequent versions that help the city pay for construction and operations in coming decades. But Horner said he wants to use the April 2011 edition as a baseline to evaluate whether the project is staying on budget going forward.
“What we don’t want is the goal post to continue to move,” he said. Refusing to budge on that will help increase transparency and accountability, he said.
Later, when Hamayasu said there will be a new financial plan early next year and HART Board of Directors Chair [[Carrie Okinaga]] talked about the next time the city moves the goal posts, Horner quickly corrected her: “We’re moving the ball, not the goal posts.” He said the 2011 numbers are in “cement” and christened the base-year projected cost as “BYP” — a moniker he decreed shall stick “forevermore.”
When Hamayasu raised a concern that such an approach wouldn’t reflect the full $5.3 billion estimated cost to construct the system, Horner stopped him again. He said the Finance Committee’s goal is to save as many dollars as possible, to “ruthlessly” guard the contingency funds. So even if the project does come in right at that projected $5.3 billion cost, “I don’t consider that a victory,” Horner said.
Horner grew even more animated when discussing the business plan and business strategy.
When Yoshioka, an ex-officio member of the board, suggested that HART should go through his Department of Transportation Services before considering a partnership with a major city bus contractor, Horner got loud.
You can have a position, he told Yoshioka, “but you don’t speak for (the) HART board.” Horner said he’s not comfortable with a business plan that doesn’t address opportunities to work with that contractor, Oahu Transit Services, Inc.
That’s because HART and the city administration will be sharing the revenues from transit users who transfer between bus and rail. The agencies need to have a conversation to define how that collaboration takes place, Horner said. And that conversation should happen sooner rather than later.
“There’s an elephant in the room and we should deal with it early. We shouldn’t deal with it in 2013, 2014 or 2015 after the train’s been built,” he said.
Horner has his sights set on more than just the transportation department.
All city agencies — even the [[Honolulu Police Department]] and Corporation Counsel — could end up in the hot seat if Horner determines their interactions with the rail authority could be more seamless and efficient.
“I’m always stirring the pot,” he said, smirking. “I’m looking for synergies.”
After the meeting wrapped up, a triumphant Horner continued to joke with his colleagues. Outside, he motioned as if he were putting some elbow grease into stirring the thick, viscous contents of a giant cauldron. He laughed that he was making enemies across city government.
Everybody laughed along with him — whether they wanted to or not.
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