Can lawmakers help UH Athletics with budget problems?

After years of budget deficits, the Athletic Director at the University of Hawaii is sounding the alarm.

Ben Jay says without some help from the state or big donors the future of UH football is unknown. Jay is asking for $3 million. While there is not definitive plan yet on the future of any sport, Jay says he is conveying a sense of urgency. He is reaching out to the Legislature for help.

But while lawmakers are generally supportive and sympatheticthe Athletic Director need not have to wait for the Legislature for help. Instead, he can also look to the University of Hawaii itself for the money.

This is not just a money issue — this is an emotional one as well. With no professional team of any kind in the islands, many fans see the University of Hawaii is the only game in town when it comes to big time sports. Right now, Jay says the Green and White is seeing red. There is a deficit of $2.1 million last fiscal year, and if he doesn’t get fund-raising help, the program will be losing money again this year. Jay says he knows there is pressure to win.

“What tempers that a little bit is a growing frustration,” said Jay. “They want us to win. They are expecting us to win. But it’s difficult for us because we are not as competitive as we could be.”

Jay acknowledges recent upheaval at the Manoa campus with the dismissal of Chancellor Tom Apple triggered some of that frustration. But nevertheless, he says fans continue to support the athletic program. While he appreciates what support he can get, he wants the deep pockets in the community to dig deeper and help.

“But what we really need is philanthropic giving from the community — those who have the means who love UH sports,” said Jay. “We have been talking to them and we have been trying to get them to make larger donations.”

Jay is looking at other ways to raise money. His fund-raising arm (Ahahui Koa Anuenue) was recently given wider latitude to do just that. He wants to make greater use of assets on campus. For example, they could stage events like concerts here at the Stan Sheriff Arena, and some of the money could go to the athletic program.

Senator Brian Taniguchi, the chairman of the Higher education committee says although Jay’s request for $3 million dollars from the legislature is “a large amount — most of my colleagues realize that UH student athletes play on behalf of the state of Hawaii — not just the University.”

But the chair of the House Finance Committee says it’s too late to deal with problems this year.

“When we go into session in January, we really deal with the budget not in the current year but the following years,” said Representative Sylvia Luke. “Next year and the following year.”

Still, she says if Jay needs money, he doesn’t necessarily need the help of lawmakers.

“If any department within the university needs any type of resources or support — the best thing to do is to work within the university system,” said Luke.

Luke says the University of Hawaii has the autonomy, and the means, to set its own priorities and has the the ability to shift money around in its budget now, instead of having to wait for the Legislature to appropriate more funds. KHON2 reached out to University President David Lassner for comment, but as told he was not available.


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