How about a lottery to pay for rail?

Sure, it’s a form of gambling, but so is expecting a train to attract sufficient ridership to alleviate traffic congestion on an island obsessed with cars and trucks.

Oh, and for it to be “on time and on budget,” too.

Kidding aside, a lottery for rail is something for lawmakers to seriously consider in the 2019 session of the Hawaii Legislature that begins Jan. 16.

Here’s why: The Honolulu rail project is now forecast to cost $9.2 billion, even though the full 20-mile transit line won’t open until late 2026.

The California Lottery website lays out the details behind a program that has been a lucrative source of cash for state projects.

Based on how much rail has grown in cost and the number of times its completion date has been pushed back, it’s a pretty good bet that paying for rail will be with us for some time to come. The current price tag does not even include operations and maintenance, and mass transit systems are commonly subsidized.

Honolulu officials earlier this month reversed their promise to use only federal and state tax dollars to get the job done. City property taxes are now being eyed in addition to the general excise and hotel taxes that are already dedicated to the steel-wheels-on-steel-rail transportation technology.

Instead of taking from residents and guests, why don’t we instead give both the opportunity to help pay for rail through a lottery?

The National Conference of State Legislatures says that, for the 44 states that have them, “state lotteries represent a small but valuable source of revenue.”

Lotteries, which were illegal in every state until 1964, typically bring in on average about 1 percent of state revenue. In some states the money goes into the general budget, but most of it, says the NCSL, goes to projects such as education (which gets the majority of dedicated state lottery revenues), senior citizens and environmental protection.

While half of all states that have lotteries have seen a decline in revenue in recent years (NCSL says it’s due in part of “jackpot fatigue”), state lotteries generated nearly $67 billion in gross revenue in fiscal year 2015, exceeding the $48.7 billion generated by corporate income taxes.

Yes, gaming is illegal in Hawaii. But that doesn’t stop some legislators from introducing bills to establish gambling in the 50th state.

In the previous two legislative sessions there were bills to create a commission to set up a lottery that would deposit revenue into the general fund; to create a state lottery, commission and account; to try a three-year lottery pilot project with proceeds directed to address homelessness; and to have a Hawaii internet lottery and gaming corporation to conduct online gambling in Hawaii to help the following:

capital improvements at public schools and the University of Hawaii system, scholarships and educational loan repayments for medical students who practice in Hawaii for 10 years, support for the family practice rural residency program, watershed protection, and reduction and prevention of problem gambling.

This being the Hawaii Legislature, none of the four bills advanced.

But think about it: If lawmakers and the governor agree on legislation to allow the City and County of Honolulu to have a lottery for rail, they could look at killing the GET surcharge and scaling back the transient accommodations tax hike imposed last year to pay for rail.

There are other possible paths to a lottery. California’s lottery came through a statewide ballot measure while voters in Florida created their lottery through a constitutional amendment.

Hawaii state law prohibits gambling. That’s why the Legislature would have to allow Oahu to have a lottery.

We understand the arguments against gaming, including that it mostly hurts lower-income residents and can create social woes. We also realize that there is a funding scheme in place that requires meeting federal requirements. And yes, a rail lottery could fall short of revenue goals.

But Oahu taxpayers and visitors are now paying for rail — even though a good many may never ride it.

Assuming they live long enough.

A good reason not to give

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