PLDC might not be the most offensive four-letter word in Hawaii after all.

A new Civil Beat Poll conducted last week found only 28 percent of voters want to abolish the relatively new Public Land Development Corporation, despite its battered image and continued protests.

The poll results also show more than half of voters want to create a statewide lottery, even though almost the same amount say gambling generally should remain illegal.

Civil Beat also asked Hawaii residents what they think about the Honolulu rail project, the state budget deficit and voting by mail.

The poll, which surveyed 813 registered voters, was conducted Jan. 7-9. It has a margin of error of 3.4 percent. Civil Beat also included cell phones for the first time since it began polling two years ago.

Stricter Controls for the PLDC

The state created the PLDC in 2011 to develop state lands and generate income for the Department of Land and Natural Resources through public-private partnerships. Environmental groups and Native Hawaiian leaders have protested the agency’s broad powers and ability to bypass county permitting requirements and zoning regulations.

Although the corporation has yet to do a single project, there’s already talk of repealing the law. Hundreds of residents turned out for meetings through the state last year, most in opposition. Tempers really flared at a September meeting on Kauai that ended with the governor leaving amid public boos.

On Wednesday’s opening day of the Hawaii Legislature, anti-PLDC activists are planning a rally to prompt lawmakers to do away with the agency. Former state environmental official Gary Hooser, now a Kauai County councilman, is speaking at the event and encouraging people to attend.

But the Civil Beat Poll suggests the opposition may be more vocal than widespread. Overall, 35 percent of voters want the law to be changed to put stricter controls on the PLDC; 12 percent think it should be left alone; and 28 percent think it should be abolished, according to the poll.

Matt Fitch, executive director of Merriman River Group, a consulting company that helped conduct the poll, said the lack of broader public support to abolish the PLDC is likely due to the agency being so new.

“What it comes down to is people don’t really know much about it yet,” he said. “It’s a very young organization. Even if they don’t like the way it’s going, people are reluctant to pull the plug on something that new.”

Civil Beat asked the question this way:

Hawaii’s Public Land Development Corporation — or PLDC — was created in 2011 to help the state government and private companies work together to develop state lands and generate revenue. Some people have criticized the agency for sidestepping environmental regulations and Native Hawaiian concerns. Other people say the PLDC hasn’t had enough time to show the positive impact it can have. Now, some state legislators and activist groups want to abolish the PLDC. What do you think — should the PLDC be abolished? Should the laws be changed to put stricter controls on the PLDC? Or should the PLDC be left as it is?

The poll found more men want to abolish the agency than women. It also shows the younger age groups support abolishing the PLDC while the older voters just want the state to control it better.

Among several ethnic groups, Japanese and Hawaiian voters were most likely to support abolishing the PLDC, while whites and Hispanics were most inclined to add stricter controls, according to the poll.

Lottery Is OK, But No Casino

While 53 percent of voters said they don’t want state lawmakers to legalize gambling in Hawaii this session, 57 percent said they would support a statewide lottery.

“What this really says is people don’t view the lottery as technically gambling,” Fitch said.

As far as gambling goes, men are much more likely to support legalization. So are 18- to 29-year-olds. Middle-aged voters, on the other hand, are more inclined to want to keep it illegal.

Across ethnic lines, Hispanics and Hawaiians support legalizing gambling the most. When it comes to keeping it illegal, Japanese and whites are most opposed to gambling.

Voters also aren’t wild about a casino in Waikiki. Sixty percent said no.

Again, as with legalizing gambling in general, more men and young people supported a casino.

Fitch said the gambling numbers didn’t surprise him.

“There’s a slogan that says, ‘The lottery is a tax on people that are bad at math.’ I think there’s something to that,” he said. “It’s not something where you don’t play it and it’s particularly harmful. It’s certainly very different than legalized gambling.”

Rail Still Unpopular

Consistent with previous polls, voters’ opinion of the biggest public works project in Hawaii’s history is still mainly negative on the project. Half the people said they oppose the rail project while 40 percent said they support it.

Fitch said in the future, since the project seems pretty much completely assured of moving forward, it will be interesting to see if the numbers change.

“What we don’t really know is if passion on either side is ebbing a bit,” he said.

The breakdown of the rail poll shows men and women support or oppose the project in equal percentages. And it doesn’t matter much how old you are in terms of how you feel about it. You either like it or you don’t. Only 4 percent were unsure and 6 percent said they could go either way on it.

The differences were most notable when it came to race. Almost two-thirds of Hawaiians oppose rail, the widest margin of any ethnic group. Filipinos were most evenly split, with 44 percent against the project.

Who Should Pay?

The Legislature will look next session at how to address some $22 billion in unfunded liabilities, which is how much money the state is short for its public worker pensions and retirement benefits. Hawaii would have to spend more than $500 million annually for the next 30 years to make the funds viable again.

Almost a third of voters said the state should pay for this enormous expense through a combination of increasing the amount current employees pay, cutting retirees’ pensions and raising the general excise tax.

Over one-fourth of voters said current employees should foot the bill on their own. Only 17 percent said the excise tax should be raised to pay for it, and just 9 percent want the state to cut benefits for retirees.

Men and women feel pretty much the same about how to handle the problem, according to the poll. Young people were the least likely to have an answer for this issue, with 46 percent saying they were unsure.

Liberals and conservatives differed a bit on how to make the programs solvent again. More liberals thought it would be better to raise the excise tax to cover it, while more conservatives wanted to cut the benefits already promised to retirees.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, people who said they were associated with union households preferred an increase in the excise tax over having current employees pay more. Union-related voters were more than twice as likely to support an excise tax boost, while voters not affiliated with a union were more than twice as likely to support current employees paying more.

All-Mail Voting?

Nearly half of registered voters want Hawaii to move to an election system like Oregon’s or Washington’s that conducts their elections entirely by mail, according to the poll. But 35 percent opposed using this system.

Dozens of precincts ran out of ballots or short on them in November’s general election. The governor and others, including good government groups, want the Legislature to consider all-mail voting. Abercrombie’s budget doesn’t include money for switching to a new election system, but aides said he might call for a new task force to explore the idea.

Men and older voters were inclined to support an all-mail voting system.

More than half of all Japanese, whites and Hispanics supported a move to an all-mail system. But only 28 percent of Filipinos felt the same, according to the poll.

Democrats and Independents were more likely than Republicans to want an all-mail voting system.

For more details, peruse the breakouts posted below. We’ll post the poll results in their entirety on the last day of this series.

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