HONOLULU -- Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie said Thursday it's "so stupid" that the cash-strapped state pays millions to host the Pro Bowl when the money could be used for education.
Abercrombie said he opposes a deal the state made in 2009 to pay $4 million per game for the rights to hold the NFL's all-star game in Hawaii this and next year.
"You can't do things like give 4 million bucks to a $9 billion football industry and not give any money to children," Abercrombie said as he announced early-childhood education and health plans. "You've got this spectacle of these multimillionaires and billionaires out there arguing about how they're going to divide it up, and then they come and ask us to bribe them with $4 million to have a scrimmage out here in paradise.
"We've got to get our values straight and our priorities straight," he said.
The Pro Bowl returned to Aloha Stadium this year after it was played in Miami in 2010, breaking up a 30-year run in Hawaii in which every game was a sellout.
The first-year Democratic governor and former longtime congressman said the NFL can ship the game back to Florida if it continues to require Hawaii to pay to keep it in the islands.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the league has no comment on Abercrombie's statements.
Tourism officials said this January's Pro Bowl attracted 17,000 visitors to the state, generated $28.15 million in visitor spending and created $3.07 million in state taxes from people who traveled to attend the game.
Former Honolulu mayor Mufi Hannemann, who negotiated contracts to keep the Pro Bowl in Hawaii, said the game's boost to the economy helps support government programs including education.
"It creates jobs, it's an economic revenue-generator, it provides positive impressions throughout the United States," said Hannemann, who ran against Abercrombie last year and is now president for the Hawaii Hotel & Lodging Association. "Honolulu is a great sports town. Sports tourism is very important to us."
But Abercrombie dismissed the economic impact of the game, saying newly enacted same-sex civil unions will do just as much to bring visitors to the state.
"Oh please. We'll get more out of civil unions in a weekend then we'll get out of those guys," he said. "We're going to market. Don't worry about marketing."
Abercrombie used the Pro Bowl as an example of ways the government could redirect money to underfunded childhood programs.
He announced Thursday he's reallocating $3 million annually from tobacco settlement funds to revive a state program providing in-home assistance to mothers of young children.