HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Lawmakers are considering a measure that would help University of Hawaii athletics dig out of a $4 million deficit with tourism dollars.
Senate Bill 83 would take $3 million from the Hawaii Tourism Authority's special tourism fund for fiscal year 2016-2017 to fund UH Manoa athletics.
After that, the governor would be required to make a decision on future funding.
Lawmakers say the funds would help UH offset costs that are unique to UH-Manoa's program.
"Team travel, travel subsidies, they're (mainland universities) not dealing with some of the cost that our university has to bear," said state Sen. Jill Tokuda, chairwoman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
She added that she sees student athletes as "ambassadors of aloha," and so using tourism dollars to help UH address its deficit makes sense. "HTA is always looking at different ways to market Hawaii and I think this is just another great opportunity to market Hawaii in the best possible way," Tokuda said.
UH spokesman Dan Meisenzahl said UH athletics faces about $5.2 million in unique expenses that "none of its other peers have."
Of the measure, Meisenzahl said, "We do like it as a mechanism to provide funding for UH Athletics, but at the same time we do recognize it's competing against other important statewide efforts."
The bill passed out of the Senate Ways and Means Committee on Friday, though Tokuda acknowledges the idea is still potentially polarizing.
"Everyone can look at the downside of this to say we're taking from HTA just to pay UH," she said. "but I'm just looking at this as an opportunity."
The bill still has to go back through the Ways and Means Committee and then to Higher Education and Tourism committees.