So House Speaker Emeritus Joe Souki (D-Wailuku, Waihee) lost out on his HB 2788 yesterday, when the Tourism Committee voted to defer the measure, apparently killing it this political session (though bills have been known to come back from being deferred before). Apparently, a wide coalition of law enforcement, religious and family organizations were enough to strike down the bill, which would have legalized gambling in the State of Hawaii and authorized the construction of a massive casino in Waikiki.
Of note isn’t so much the gambling issue, but something that appeared in this morning’s Hawaii Public Radio story on the bill (click here to listen to the HPR report). According to HPR reporter Wayne Yoshioka, the casino outlined in the bill would have brought in “about $395 million to the state.” Yoshioka then paraphrased long-time gambling lobbyist John Radcliffe as saying that money “could then be applied to shortfalls in the retired public employee health benefits and retirement systems.”
This, he followed with a direct quote from Radcliffe: “We are now facing a $24.7 billion unfunded liability in the EUTF [Hawaii Employee Union Health Benefits Trust Fund] and the ERS [Employees Retirement System] with no means to get money to pay for it.”
Did he say $24.7 billion? The biennial budget Governor Neil Abercrombie signed last June was just $21.9 billion. Could things have gotten so bad that government is now basically beholden to those workers who don’t work for government anymore (according to this October 2011 Hawaii Reporter story, which is based on the state’s 2010 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, the answer is yes).
We’re already seeing the effects of this. Check out this Hawaii News Now story posted today, which reports that the Hawaii Department of Agriculture Measurement Standards Division now employs just ONE inspector for the entire state (a second recently retired and a third is on extended leave). That’s just a single person tasked with checking the accuracy of the hundreds of gas pumps and thousands of taxi meters across Hawaii, to say nothing of all the commercial scales and prices on supermarket shelves.
I’m not saying the state needs to legalize gambling so we can pay for all this, but I am saying something will have to change soon, or the State of Hawaii won’t do much of anything anymore.
Photo: Joe Pyrek/Wikimedia Commons