Lottery ticket to support Missouri veterans will be on August ballot

Sunday, July 27, 2014 | 5:46 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — A loss of state funds and a declining number of gamblers paying entrance fees at casinos has left the Missouri Veterans Commission with less flexibility in its spending on veterans cemeteries, group homes and services.

Amendment 8 on the Aug. 5 ballot would create a state lottery ticket by next July to help finance veterans homes and services. There are no estimates on potential revenues, which would hinge on how many tickets were sold.

The type of scratcher ticket, including cost, has not been decided, Missouri Lottery spokeswoman Susan Goedde said.

Financing would be similar to that of the lottery funds that go to education, Goedde said. The net proceeds of those tickets, after taking out administrative costs and prizes, comes to about 25 cents for every $1.

The ballot language voters will see notes that a veterans lottery could cause a small shift in proceeds going to education:

"Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to create a 'Veterans Lottery Ticket'  and to use the revenue from the sale of these tickets for projects and services related to veterans? The annual cost or savings to state and local governmental entities is unknown, but likely minimal. If sales of a veterans lottery ticket game decrease existing lottery ticket sales, the profits of which fund education, there could be a small annual shift in funding from education to veterans programs."

After the state legislature cut all of the $29 million in general revenue from the commission's budget in 2012, it has increasingly relied on a capital interest fund that was set up to help maintain, repair and construct veterans homes and cemeteries operated by the commission, commission spokesman Daniel Bell said.

There are seven state veterans homes, including one in Mexico, Mo., making up 1,350 total beds as well five cemeteries.

The commission estimates there are about 1,800 veterans on a waiting list for the homes. The $30 million in the trust fund is enough to maintain operations but not enough to expand or build new homes, Bell said.

"What this is going to do is help restore some of the operational revenue that was lost in the economic downturn," Bell said.

Various versions of legislation for a veterans lottery ticket have passed the state House of Representatives for the past four years but were stopped in the Senate each time. All but four state senators supported this year's bill.

The proposed constitutional amendment has the backing of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. "Historically, any time there has been an issue on the ballot concerning veterans, the people of Missouri have supported us," Dewey Riehn, legislative chair in Missouri for the organization, said.

"The backlog is increasing at a rate of about 30 per month," Riehn said, adding that there is a wait time of nine to 12 months for a bed.

Ninety-seven percent of veterans living in the state homes pay full price which is $2,000 a month, Bell said. The U.S Department of Veterans Affairs also pays $100.37 per housed veteran per day.

The commission's total budget in fiscal 2014 was $116 million; it would cost about $50 million and take two and a half years to build a new home, Bell said.

State Sen. Paul LeVota, D-Independence, opposed legislation that would create a lottery ticket for veterans as an uncertain way to fund needed services such as new veterans homes.

"We have had several years of declining support for our veterans," LeVota said. He called the amendment a "gimmicky" way of raising funds.

LeVota said it's necessary to look at permanent and consistent veterans funding by allocating part of the state's general revenue fund. Because that's not a priority for the majority of legislators, he said, the lottery ticket is a good short-term solution.

"I will probably even vote for it myself at this point," LeVota said. "We're still not stepping up on our responsibility to veterans."

Supervising editor is John Schneller.

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Michael Grinfeld July 28, 2014 | 12:37 p.m.

If people want to provide services to veterans they should be willing to pay for them with their taxes. Legislators should tell people how much it costs and how much money they want to raise, and then have the courage to impose those costs on citizens through increased taxes on those most able to pay. But a constitutional amendment to create a lottery where no one knows how much money it will raise or how consistently is ludicrous.

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