Missouri voters on Aug. 5 should scratch lottery plan

Missouri voters should reject a measure to add a new lottery ticket.
Missouri voters should reject a measure to add a new lottery ticket.

A question on Missouri’s Aug. 5 ballot would extend the state lottery to include a new scratch-off ticket to raise money for homes for elderly and disabled veterans, and for maintenance of veterans cemeteries.

The cause is good, but the funding method is flawed. Voters should say “no.”

The back story of Constitutional Amendment 8 demonstrates the folly of relying on gambling revenues to fund essential state services.

In 2012, the trust fund for veterans homes was so depleted lawmakers returned a portion of casino admission fees to veterans programs. Those fees had been used before to fund the seven state-run veterans homes, but in 1998 some of the money had been diverted into early childhood education.

When they returned the admission fee proceeds to the veterans, the General Assembly and Gov. Jay Nixon dipped into funds the state receives from a legal settlement with tobacco companies to fund early childhood education. But that meant a loss of money for smoking prevention and cessation and public health, which are supposed to be financed from the tobacco settlement.

And, of course, lawmakers have used the admission fee revenues as a rationale for allocating less money from the general fund to veterans’ nursing homes, cemeteries and outreach programs.

The entire picture is messed up. Missouri has a responsibility to properly fund services for veterans and also to prepare children for a bright future. It shouldn’t be placing good causes into competition with one another for gambling funds.

Creating a new lottery ticket for veterans may siphon money from elementary and secondary education, which currently receives lottery money. It would almost certainly encourage lawmakers to shortchange the veterans in their annual budgets.

Missouri legislators should stop giving tax breaks and favors to businesses and special interests and fully fund its veterans homes, schools and other essential services. A “no” vote on Aug. 5 would send that message quite effectively.