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Council must exercise oversight over the city's biggest public works project

By Ernest Martin and Ikaika Anderson

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 02:23 p.m. HST, Aug 05, 2011



One of the great misconceptions surrounding the dispute between the mayor and the City Council over the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) is his idea that the Council wants to micromanage the transit project. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The 2010 Charter amendment clearly empowered the authority to build, operate and maintain a fixed-guideway system for Oahu. On this, the Council and the mayor agree. But what the mayor refuses to acknowledge is that Section 17-106 of the City Charter just as clearly requires the authority to submit a line-item appropriation request for both its operating and capital budgets to the Council.

Although the request must come through the Office of the Mayor by Dec. 1 for the following fiscal year, the Charter explicitly prohibits the mayor from altering this budget. Instead, it directs the Council to approve the appropriation request, with or without amendments. Ironically, the 2012 appropriations for HART passed by the Council and vetoed by the mayor were, in essence, what the administration had originally requested.

Clearly, this argument is not about the money. It's about the mayor's insistence that the Council has no legitimate responsibility for rail. It is absolutely absurd to think that the Council would have amended the Charter to completely eliminate its fiduciary oversight of the largest public works project in our history.

The mayor has repeatedly compared HART to the semi-autonomous Board of Water Supply but conveniently fails to point out that the BWS is financially independent and relies solely on user fees to fund its operations. HART will require an annual operating subsidy upwards of $100 million. In the likely event of cost overruns, HART will have to seek even more money in additional subsidies for construction.

With the mayor unable to modify HART's budget requests, the Council is the only entity directly responsible to the taxpayers. Unlike the mayor, the Council has not had the time or money to conduct public opinion polls, but we know enough about the interests of Oahu taxpayers to know that they are already nervous about the affordability of the rail project.

If HART had the level of financial autonomy the administration is insisting on, the public would have no security against the possibility of unchecked spending. It was for this very reason that the Council, in passing the Charter amendment, ensured that HART would be subjected to responsible financial oversight. It is for this reason that the Council unanimously voted to override the mayor's veto. We are now optimistic about working collaboratively with HART to provide the authority with the necessary resources to complete the project on time and within budget.






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