HONOLULU(KHON2) — Senate Education Committee chair Michelle Kidani is floating the idea of establishing a lottery system to help offset the state’s budget deficit.

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Sen. Kidani sees a lottery as a safer option that could help prevent the struggling University of Hawaii (UH) and Department of Education (DOE) from job losses and cuts to programs while previous proposals to legalize gambling and build casinos have all been shot down.

Gov. David Ige’s proposed budget cuts slashes $70 million from each of UH’s 2022 and 2023 school years and shaves off $165.6 million from the DOE budget for 2022 and 2023 as well. The cuts left both departments in dire straights and forced them to make tough choices.

Sen. Kidani said, creating a lottery could ease the financial burden caused by the pandemic.

“It’s not a pretty sight right now,” she said. “And I’m doing this in an attempt to try and bring some form of relief to our students and to our teachers.”

She said, the money the lottery generates — if approved — would be split several ways. The winning lottery ticket would take the largest cut at 45%. The DOE and UH would split 40% of the funds and the last 15% would be used to run the lottery.

“We are looking at this very carefully,” Sen. Kidani explained. “We don’t want this to be a fly-by-night operation. It will be vetted, it’ll have a five-member Commission, the director will be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate. And, of course, like anything else, if it’s not going to pan out, then we have to look at it again. “

Sen. Kidani hopes the public will get behind it.

“But again, we don’t know if we don’t try,” she said. “I’m thinking, as we talk about gambling bills before, that, maybe this will be not something that is as heavy as a casino, but will have some substance to it being just a lottery.”

Testimony submitted by UH shows they are remaining neutral regarding the proposal so far:
“The University of Hawai’i (UH) appreciates the intent of this bill as it opens up a dialogue about providing for an alternative revenue source for the UH facilities. The UH defers to the Department of the Attorney General and the Office of the Governor regarding the creation of any type of lottery in the State of Hawai’i.”

The DOE also remained luke-warm about the plan in their statement to KHON2:
“In general, the Department appreciates efforts that seek to increase or stabilize funding for public schools. The Department is scheduled to testify on SB816 at tomorrow’s initial hearing, where we will share our position on the specific proposal.”

The Senate Education Committee is holding a public hearing on the bill Wednesday, Feb. 10, around 3:05 p.m. at the State Capitol.