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Missouri ballot issue aims to help veterans

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Above image credit: Missouri voters will decide the fate of Amendment 8 tomorrow, which, if passed, will create a new lottery ticket to benefit veterans. (photo by Mike Sherry/Hale Center for Journalism)

Among the issues Missouri voters will face at the polls Tuesday is a proposed amendment to the Missouri Constitution that has pitted veterans advocates against education supporters.

The proposed amendment, Constitutional Amendment 8, would create a veterans lottery ticket by July of next year, the proceeds of which would be deposited in the Veterans Commission Capital Improvement Trust Fund.

Rep. Sheila Solon, a Blue Springs Republican, sponsored the legislation to place the question on the ballot. She said she identified a need to increase funding for Missouri’s veterans programs four years ago while working on an appropriations subcommittee dedicated to examining Missouri Veterans Commission funding.

In 2012, the General Assembly voted to give one dollar of every casino entrance fee — a two-dollar-per-patron fee the Missouri Gaming Commission charges casinos — to veterans programs.

In response, lawmakers cut $19 million in funding for the veterans commission, leaving its budget around the same level at which it had previously been.

Missouri has seven veterans homes that have the combined capacity to provide long-term skilled nursing care to 1,350 veterans. Nearly 2,000 veterans are awaiting slots. That figure has been increasing steadily for years, and veterans officials expect the waiting list to continue to grow with demand from World War II and Korean War veterans.

Some veterans advocates have hoped that proceeds from a new lottery ticket would finance the  construction of an eighth veterans home. Sponsoring lawmakers don’t expect the lottery ticket to generate any more than $6 million annually. Building a new home would cost $50 million. Commission spokesman Daniel Bell said that building a new home is not currently in the commission’s projections.

Solon said that, even though building a new home is not currently on the horizon, any revenue accrued from the lottery ticket would still be beneficial — even necessary — to the MVC’s ability to maintain its three main programs.

“[Building a new home] seems unattainable, but, at the very least, we can make improvements to the existing homes,” Solon said.

According to Solon, the Home in Mexico, Missouri does not meet federal standards.

She hopes that any lottery ticket proceeds would first be used to make necessary repairs and updates to this home as well as restore full funding to the MVC’s Veterans Cemetery and Veterans Service programs. Eventually, Solon hopes, proceeds will restore a surplus in the veterans trust fund.

“The lottery ticket is not the answer; it is not going to fund everything,” Solon said. “But it is a step in the right direction. This is the least we can do [for our veterans].”

However, some opponents fear that creating such a lottery ticket would take funding away from Missouri education, the sole program to which lottery proceeds are currently given.

While opponents believe existing lottery customers would begin spending some of their money on the veterans ticket, diverting a portion of funding away from an existing education ticket, Solon believes a new ticket would form a whole new customer base and would benefit the lottery program as a whole.

“My hope would be that it would reinvigorate the whole program and not only help veterans, but also increase sales for education,” Solon said. “It should hopefully be a win-win for everyone.”

According to Bell, the MVC has taken no official position on Amendment 8, but would welcome additional funding rightfully given to them.

“The commission is very happy to have any money that comes to us appropriately through the legislative or voter initiative process,” Bell said.

To read the full text of this amendment and the four others slated to be on tomorrow’s ballot, visit www.sos.mo.gov/elections/2014ballot/.

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