Back in 2011, when Honolulu’s rail project was estimated to cost a mere $5.2 billion, U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye secured federal funding for the endeavor. As chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Inouye had considerable power both in Washington, D.C., and at home. But even he knew the limits of his influence.

I’m a realist,” he told Civil Beat at the time.

Rail had enjoyed a “ceremonial” groundbreaking earlier that year, but the project was already riddled with controversies (which, in retrospect, seem minor and quaint), and Inouye understood how difficult it would be to actually see such a large project through.

“If (local rail planners) don’t do their part, I’m just assuming that’s their decision,” the then 87-year-old said. “It’s the end unless they revive it. But I’m not going to be around here when I’m 120.”

Inouye died almost exactly one year after that interview. But his words seem eerily prescient now, five years and an extra $5 billion later.

That’s because, over the past few weeks, we’ve watched in shock and varying degrees of horror as the local “leadership” for rail has repeatedly not done its part.

Indeed, the most familiar face for advancing rail, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, has essentially been trying to pin the future of rail (and its potential failure) on state lawmakers.

The Legislature concluded its 2017 session last week without reaching an agreement on how to subsidize the largest public construction project in state history. Caldwell has done his best to scapegoat and deflect, blithely insisting a special session will save the day once “things cool down a bit.”

Now, Caldwell is pinning his hopes on a special session that may materialize if lawmakers can come together and agree on a plan.

But the scary fact remains that even if legislators come up with a politically palatable way to spend billions more in taxpayer money on a project that should have been laid to rest long ago — and Gov. David Ige buys off on it — Caldwell and the city will still be driving this particular train, a fact that was not lost on many of the infuriated and exhausted state lawmakers.

“Part of the reason it ended up in this situation, of course, is that the city never gave us good numbers, numbers that we could trust, numbers that we could work with,” Sen. Kalani English said on Thursday. “It kept on changing. Even up until yesterday it was changing. So it is bad information in, bad information out.”

Sen. Donna Mercado Kim also had strong words for Caldwell, who has essentially threatened to blame the Legislature if he has to raise property taxes to pay for rail.

“Let’s just get it on the record,” Kim said. “We are not the ones that are causing the city to raise the property taxes. They should have known these things are going to happen. They shouldn’t have fooled the public into thinking that any city project would have come in on budget and on time.”

At some point, this guy has to face the music and actually do what he was elected to do.

It is unfortunate really that an issue as big as rail has somehow been overshadowed by the mayor’s incompetent leadership. Indeed, the pressing question today has nothing to do with the project’s merits or flaws, but whether or not the person in charge of it can be trusted.

The Legislature already helped Caldwell out once before by agreeing to extend the general excise tax surcharge in 2015. He made a big show at the time about how he wouldn’t come back to the state again, only to find himself this year, hat in hand, insisting the state’s help was necessary because the project is actually even more over budget.

The 20-mile-long rail line is now estimated to cost $10 billion, with the city currently short about $3 billion.

During this past legislative session, Caldwell refused to talk about what the city’s options would be if the state didn’t bail him out again. As we noted at the time, this was both frustrating and unfair to the public, which shouldn’t be left in the dark about such a large project.

Caldwell, however, seems to be motivated by what is politically shrewd, not what is fair to the public. With vision, innovation and basic accounting skills in short supply, Caldwell’s most obvious option — raising property taxes — is politically unpopular.

And now that the state has actually — so far — refused to bail him out, he appears to be doubling down on that political tactic.

“I believe that we can live for another day,” he told reporters of his strong-arm approach to getting a special session. “I’m not going to put my energy or focus on anything else until we know (a special session is) no longer an option, and I believe it’s an option — the option, the preferred option.”

At some point, this guy has to face the music and actually do what he was elected to do. That includes taking responsibility, presenting clear and actionable information, and working with people to see his vision through.

As City Councilwoman Kymberly Marcos Pine has said, it’s time. On Thursday she asked Caldwell to prepare a new city budget, complete with budget cuts and tax increases, that would show how the city will pay for rail.

“The Legislature has stated their position to not to agree to fund rail,” Pine said in a statement, “and it is time for the Honolulu City Council and the mayor to make some very tough decisions, including the possibility of stopping the project completely. Rail as of today is dead. We simply cannot pay for a project that we do not have the funds to complete.”

You don’t have to be much of a realist to understand that fundamental truth. But if you’re going to do anything about it, you do have to be a leader.

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