Smart Decision 2014: Analyzing Amendment 8 - Veterans Lottery
MEXICO - Amendment Eight, also known as the Veteran's Lottery amendment, is one of five possible amendments to the Missouri constitution facing voters during the Aug. 5 primary election.
Amendment Eight would allow the state to create a special scratcher lottery ticket to fund veterans programs in the state.
The ballot language reads:
"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."
The Missouri state lottery began directing all of its proceeds from ticket sales to public education in 1992, after voters passed Amendment 11. The Missouri State Lottery's website says ticket revenue accounts for about four percent of elementary, secondary and higher education budgets and in Fiscal Year 13, $288,804,006 went to education.
Some opponents have expressed concern the new lottery ticket would hamper funds reserved for education; however, supporters say that funds would be compensated by a new community of scratcher buyers opting to buy tickets specifically for veterans.
The idea to pass an amendment isn't a new one. Rep. Sheila Solon (R-Blue Springs) has tried to get the idea on the ballot for several years. The House passed HJR 48 132 to 10 on February 13, 2014 and the Senate gave its approval with a 27 to 4 vote in May, sending it to voters for the August 5 election.
In order to create the new ticket an amendment to the state consultation must be passed to replace the 1992 amendment.
The money generated from the proposed new ticket would go into the existing Veterans Commission Capital Improvement Trust Fund. The Missouri Veterans Commission appropriates the funds, created by Section 42.300, RSMo. This trust fund allows money to be spent on:
• The construction, maintenance or renovation or equipment needs of veterans' homes and cemeteries
• Medallion recognition fund
• Veteran's outreach programs
There are seven Veteran's homes in the Missouri. Only California and Texas surpass Missouri with eight total Veteran's homes each.
"We have a well-rounded group in our family" Brenda Ezell, Adminstrator at the Mexico Veterans Home said. She said the 150 veterans who live there range in age from 50 to 96. Ezell said the Mexico veterans fought in World War II, the Korean conflict, Vietnam and in Operation Desert Storm.
SUPPORT FOR THE VETERANS LOTTERY (See opposing arguments.)
Solon said that the need for funding is increasingly more important as veterans return home Iraq and Afghanistan with post traumatic stress syndrome and traumatic brain injury. The outreach services help mediate between veterans and the agencies provide veterans state and federal assistance.
1,350 veterans live in the Veterans homes across the state, but thousands more are waiting for a spot. There are currently 237 waiting for a spot at the Mexico facility alone. The average wait time is about nine months. Solon said the need to get a new avenue for funding is imperative because many veterans are passing away before a spot opens up.
"It's a sweet and sour situation because when we lose a veteran we're usually connected with that person and that individual. We miss them and it's a loss for us, as well as for their families of course," Ezell said. "but to be able to open up a room for someone else that needs it, that's the sweet part."
Rep. Solon said she is confident a new veterans lottery ticket will build the Veterans fund back up. She said one day she hopes the fund will have enough to build and operate a new home, as well as enhance the existing operations and programs.
Currently, all funds from Missouri State Lottery tickets go towards funding public education projects. Solon, who has tried to get the idea on the ballot for the past four years, said she doesn't think adding another ticket will detract from education funds.
"I have never had anyone from the education community approach me," she said. "I've been the bill's sponsor for the past four years. No one has approached me or spoken to me about concerns that they have."
Solon said she thinks the program would generate up to $3 million a year and will bring a new community of scratcher players, solely to support the veterans. Solon said she's studied states with similar programs and is encouraged by the success. Currently, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas and Texas have lottery programs for their veterans programs and Solan said it does not hurt existing programs.
"I think it'll re-energize the whole program and get people excited again about the lottery and I think that ,not only will it help our veterans, but it also is going to help education funding that comes from our lottery by just adding a bunch of new customers who normally don't buy lottery tickets."
OPPOSITION TO THE VETERANS LOTTERY (See supporting arguments.)
There has not been much vocal opposition to Amendment Eight and little campaigning around the issue.
One lawmaker opposed to the idea is Rep. Jeremy LaFaver (D-Kansas City). He voted against the proposed lottery ticket earlier this year. He said using lottery ticket sales as a primary source of funding for any state run program is inefficient and could have risky long-term consequences.
"I think if this passes, the legislature will say, 'okay you got your dedicated revenue source, now were going to use general revenue for other things.'"
He said while he absolutely supports finding more funding for the veterans, but strongly believes the lottery is not the way to make up for the $20 million lawmakers cut from the General Revenue budget in 2010.
According to the Missouri State Lottery website, for every dollar spent on Missouri state lottery tickets 24.5 cents benefits Missouri education programs, 64.7 cents contributes to prize winnings, 4.6 cents goes toward administration costs and 6.2 cents goes toward retailers.
What's unique about this situation is both the supporters and the opponents ultimately want the same thing: more money for veterans programs. What it boils down to is the most effective way of doing so.
"In order to make up twenty million dollars in lost funding, the lottery would have to sell more than a hundred million of these new lottery tickets, LaFaver said. "It only grows by less than 30 million dollars a year and that's with significant advertising. I think that it's going to be impossible to make up those 20 million dollars. I think it'll be closer to a million dollars, if that and I think we've seen that play out in other states."
Specifically, LaFaver points to Washington state's failed veterans lottery raffle ticket program as a harbinger for what he said he believes will likely happen in Missouri. Washington began selling raffle tickets for funding veterans program in 2010, but canceled it in 2012 after an overwhelmingly low response. LaFaver said people aren't interested in funding programs when they're gambling, they're looking for the best bet.
"When people go in and buy lottery tickets they don't say what does this fund, what does that fund?" LaFaver said. He regularly asks cashiers about their lottery ticket sales. He said overwhelmingly the clerks themselves don't know what the tickets fund, and aren't asked about it either.
There has not been a formal campaign for this amendment so there hasn't been poll numbers, but both representatives believe the amendment will likely pass. With the high interest in some of the other amendments on the ballot this election season, LaFaver said he thinks people will likely decide on the issue pen-in-hand, in the voting booth.
"On it's surface, yeah, who wouldn't want to fund veteran's services?," LaFaver said. "What this will mean is we will fund it at a level that is less than what he have funded it in the past."
If the amendment is passed, tickets would be available starting July 1, 2015. The primary election is schedule for Tuesday, August 5.
[Editor's Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly referenced Rep. Jeremy LeFaver as Rep. Jefferey LeFaver. It has since been corrected.]