Harris vetoes provisions in city building budget
By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser City Hall Writer
Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris yesterday vetoed parts of the city's $455 million construction budget that would have limited how his administration could spend money on certain projects.
Harris described the rejection of six items as mostly "housekeeping." He noted in his veto message that the conditions for some of the projects are "duplicative, unnecessary, inconsistent or violate statute."
Harris did sign the $1.1 billion operating budget but complained that some of the Council's changes may affect city services. This is the first time Harris vetoed a portion of the budget. In the past, former Mayor Frank Fasi vetoed a budget.
City Council budget chairwoman Ann Kobayashi said she had concerns about two items in the construction budget that will eventually cost the city a lot of money. They involve the proposed Central O'ahu tennis complex and expansion of the H-Power garbage-to-energy plant.
Kobayashi said she will talk with other Council members next week about whether there is enough opposition to Harris' actions to override a veto on those issues. At least six votes are needed to override a veto.
Harris said wording in the budget on the tennis complex is contradictory. He noted that the budget states in one sentence that a potential private partner is responsible for "all operating expenses" and later states that a private entity must be responsible for "at least 50 percent of the maintenance costs for the facility."
Kobayashi said the Council is concerned that the city ends up paying much more over the years for operating and upkeep of the tennis complex when those costs were to be shared with a private business partner. Similar assurances were made about the Waipi'o Peninsula soccer complex, but the city has yet to find a private partner.
"I worry about the maintenance money," she said. "The administration had said that there would be private-public partnership for soccer, and after two years it hasn't happened."
Councilman Steve Holmes said the tennis complex limitations could effectively kill the project so he understands the concerns. He said the veto doesn't contain anything "earth-shattering."
Councilwoman Darrlyn Bunda said, "I personally don't see a major problem" with the Harris vetoes.
Harris also vetoed a requirement that calls for the city to spend $100,000 to study a new technology to deal with garbage before proceeding with the planned expansion of the H-Power garbage-burning plant.
"Before we go into this, I think we should look at this new technology, before we spend $60 million to expand H-Power," Kobayashi said. She wonders if H-Power may be outdated and surpassed by technology that doesn't require a landfill.
But Harris wants to move forward with a study of another new technology, which uses a plasma arc to handle garbage. He said that study will address the council's concerns. "Delay in funding the H-Power expansion will be detrimental to the needs of the populations of Honolulu and will cause the waste to the landfill to continue at its current rate for a greater time period than necessary," Harris said.
Harris dismissed suggestions that he was sending a broader philosophical message to the City Council. Harris' administration battled with the Council over how to balance the budget, while Harris was running for governor. Harris withdrew from that race a day after the Council approved its version of his spending plan.
Some had questioned why the mayor distanced himself from most of the budget battle and if this veto symbolizes a return to more active engagement in City Hall politics.
Harris also vetoed a provision in the construction budget that required vending machines to dispense 12-ounce containers, not 20-ounce containers. Harris said the council was inappropriately reaching into an administrative function by trying to manage to that level.
But Kobayashi said the Council was responding to the wishes of vision teams, which asked for the smaller drink containers. "We didn't want to cut vision team stuff."
Harris did say that the Council's changes to the operating budget may result in some inconvenience to residents and visitors.
He said the city may be slower to respond with pothole patching, cleaning bus stops, roadside cleaning and support for community activities such as parades.
Harris also said the changes will slow momentum for economic development programs and affect golf course maintenance in a way that "will degrade both their appearance and quality of play."
Reach Robbie Dingeman at email@example.com or 525-8070.