Mayor, council heading to court on rail

Mayor Peter Carlisle and the City Council appear headed to court in a battle over fiscal control of O‘ahu’s $5.3 billion rail project.

Carlisle yesterday vetoed the $17.5 budget the council passed for 2012 operations of the new Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transit, arguing that the City Charter amendment creating HART gives the semi-autonomous agency the right to set its own budget.

The council, which passed the budget 8-1, is expected to override the veto, leaving the courts to resolve the dispute if the two sides can’t come to an agreement.

Council members have expressed frustration at what they describe as a heavy-handed attempt by the administration to cut them out of rail funding decisions, which they say was never the intent of the charter amendment.

The council may have already misplayed its best leverage to negotiate concessions from the administration on control of rail.

One area where the council clearly holds the power is in the approval of bonds to pay for the project.

Six council votes are needed for bonds to be floated, and when Carlisle last month requested approval for $104 million in rail bonds that won’t actually be needed until September 2012, the council rolled over and gave 6-3 approval despite the fact that at least half of the members voting “aye” had expressed serious concern about the administration’s heavy-handedness on rail.

The better play if they were worried about rail funding would have been to withhold approval of the bonds until the administration gave ground on the project’s financial transparency.

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