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Battle brews over control of rail transit authority's budget

By B.J. Reyes

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 01:54 a.m. HST, May 18, 2011



Mayor Peter Carlisle would veto budget proposals for the planned rail transit authority that give the City Council final say on any spending decisions by the semiautonomous board, the administration said yesterday. The administration contends the Council oversight provisions — advanced by the Budget Committee yesterday — go against the City Charter amendment approved last year by voters establishing the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, or HART.

"Council appears to directly contravene the letter and spirit of the voter-approved charter amendment," states a letter dated yesterday and signed by city Managing Director Doug Chin.

"Council should allow the HART Board to come into existence, and if its concerns (whatever they may be) materialize, then determine whether or not such extraordinary measures as further Charter amendment or judiciary intervention is necessary," the letter states.

Voters approved a charter amendment last year establishing the transit authority as a 10-member, semiautonomous body to oversee all aspects of the $5.3 billion rail project. The appointed board, which has yet to hire an executive director, is to begin operating on July 1.

Transportation Director Wayne Yoshioka testified it is the city's position that the budget provisions go against the charter amendment.

The budget bills were passed last week by the full Council by 7-1 vote, with one member absent, on the second of three required readings. The bills come up for final vote before the full Council at its June 3 meeting.

Six votes would be required to overturn a mayoral veto.

If a veto is not overridden, the Council's position would be that HART could not move forward as anticipated on July 1. Budget Chairman Ernie Martin said he expects the matter to be settled by a court.

Chin said he is hopeful the Council and the administration will be able to reach an agreement that will allow the rail authority to begin its work as scheduled.

"It doesn't have to be litigated," he said.

The operating and capital project budgets for the authority were given preliminary approval last week, adding language stipulating that no money shall be spent by HART from the transit fund for any purpose unless the Council appropriates it first. The capital improvement program budget also included a provision that bond money may be encumbered but not expended until an agreement from the federal government to provide the transit funds is completed.

Councilman Ikaika Anderson, who introduced the amendments, said he did not feel they went against the will of the voters. Council members backed up Anderson yesterday, saying they felt that the Council did not give up its budget authority with the charter amendment.

"I think when that issue was discussed, within the previous Council, in formulating the charter amendment, there was never any intent for the Council to forgo its responsibility for reviewing and approving the budget for HART," Martin said. "I think the actions that have been taken with respect to (the budgets) are consistent with that opinion."

Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi said she believes that if the matter went to court, the Council likely would prevail because courts have in the past looked at legislative intent in ruling on such matters. Chin's letter notes the legislative language establishing HART is patterned after Charter language establishing the semiautonomous Board of Water Supply, over which the Council has no budgetary oversight.

The letter also cites previous committee reports and drafts of the amendments that show the previous City Council specifically removed language that would have given it final approval of money expended from the transit fund. The Council retained the power to approve HART appropriation requests from the general fund.

"Council chose language that can only be interpreted in light of its history as relinquishing control over the transit funds in favor of HART semiautonomy," the letter states.






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