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Missouri veterans are lobbying for more money from gaming

 Veterans salute during the national anthem at a rally in the state capitol in Jefferson City this week
Jonathan Ahl
St. Louis Public Radio
Veterans salute during the national anthem at a rally in the state capitol in Jefferson City this week

A state representative wants Missouri to give more of its gaming revenue to veterans projects.

Currently the Missouri Veterans Commission is primarily funded by a $2 charge for every person who visits one of the state’s casinos. The casino owners pay that fee.

That tax brought in $26.7 million to the Veterans Commission in 2014, but a drop-off in attendance saw that go down to $19 million in 2019, the last full year before the coronavirus pandemic further reduced attendance.

Efforts to increase the fee by $1 or $2 per gambler have failed.

Rep. Dave Griffith, R-Jefferson City, is sponsoring a bill that would put a question in front of voters for Missouri to give half of all its $400 million in gaming revenue, including the lottery, to veterans programs.

“It solves our problems with the veterans homes, it solves our problems with the cemeteries, but more than anything else it solves a lot of problems for our veterans,” Griffith said at a rally at the state Capitol this week.

The Veterans Commission reports the seven state-run veterans homes are at half capacity because of low staffing levels caused by the homes paying less than comparable positions at other nursing homes and long-term care facilities. Gov. Mike Parson is trying to address this, in part, with his request to increase the pay of all state workers. That would include nurses and other state employees at the veterans homes.

But that isn’t enough, Griffith said. He said the state needs to show more of a commitment to veterans in the way it budgets.

“We need to have a line item in the budget where we can have a revenue stream we know is going to be dependable each and every year,” Griffith said.

If the measure passed and was then approved by voters, it would move $200 million a year from education to veterans causes. That’s likely to face stiff opposition from educators and schools, but it won’t stop veterans from lobbying lawmakers.

“We have to let our legislators know,” said Troy Williams of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. “We need to ask our legislators to stand up for our veterans.”

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @JonathanAhl

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Jonathan Ahl reports from the Rolla Bureau for St. Louis Public Radio. His duties also include covering central and southern Missouri for Harvest Public Media. Before coming to St. Louis Public Radio in November of 2018, Jonathan was the General Manager for Tri States Public Radio in Macomb, Illinois. He previously was the News Director at Iowa Public Radio and before that at WCBU in Peoria, Illinois. Jonathan has also held reporting positions in central Illinois for public radio stations. Jonathan is originally from the Chicago area. He has a B.A. in Music Theory and Composition from Western Illinois University and an M.A. in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois at Springfield. He is an avid long distance runner, semi-professional saxophonist and die-hard Chicago Cubs fan.