JEFFERSON CITY — At a time when state revenues are reeling from the effects of a spiraling economy, Missouri lawmakers are considering a small but controversial expansion of gambling.
A proposed $30 billion spending plan moving through the Legislature gives the Missouri Lottery the power to install 100 pull-tab machines at truck stops across the state.
Currently, only private fraternal organizations are allowed to have the machines, which issue a ticket containing a series of paper tabs. Players peel back the strips to reveal symbols — arranged like slot machine reels — to find out if they’ve won a prize.
The budget plan would allow truck stops to each have three machines, but some senators were upset with the concept.
“This is a direct offense to our low-income people who will divert their money to things like this,” said Sen. David Sater, R-Cassville.
“This is a clear example of an expansion of gaming,” said Sen. Ed Emery, R-Lamar.
Sen. Eric Burlison, R-Springfield, said the maneuver was “disgusting” and should be part of separate legislation.
The debate over an expansion of gambling comes as other gaming-related proposals have been sidelined by the state’s response to the spread of COVID-19 and its effects on businesses and workers.
An attempt to ban privately owned, unregulated slot machines that have spread across the state has stalled and bids to launch sports gambling and video gambling have been put on hold.
And, it won’t amount to much revenue for the state lottery, which funnels its profits to public education. Most lottery revenue comes from the sale of scratch off tickets and numbers games.
Debate on the matter came as the Senate moved to approve its version of a spending plan that banks on an influx of federal stimulus money to blunt reduced tax revenues flowing into the state’s main checkbook.
The blueprint, which will go into effect July 1, is an estimated $146 million less than what’s in the current budget.
State funding to public colleges and universities was slashed by 10% at a time when higher education is already reeling from potential enrollment losses as the coronavirus brings uncertainty to the fall semester.
The plan also nixes 2% raises for the state’s low-paid state workers in the fiscal year that begins July 1.
“We needed to look at the realities of COVID-19 and what it has done to our economy,” said Sen. Dan Hegeman, R-Cosby, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee.
The Senate also slashes unfilled jobs from the budget.
At the Missouri Department of Transportation, for example, budget writers found 30-plus employee openings that could be pared from the budget to save about $1.3 million.
Much of the new spending reflects federal stimulus dollars that have flowed into the state.
There is an additional $2 billion in spending authority for schools if more federal stimulus money is approved by Congress.
The Senate earmarked $20 million in federal money to help meat processing facilities that have become coronavirus hot spots.
At the Triumph Foods pork processing plant in St. Joseph, for example, more than 410 workers tested positive for the disease as of Tuesday.
The proposal also sets aside $30 million in federal funding for grants for small businesses.
The General Assembly is working toward a Friday deadline to get the budget to Gov. Mike Parson, who had sought an estimated $700 million more in spending than lawmakers are expected to give him.
“I know the budget the governor recommended last January is not really as good as the paper it was printed on,” said Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg.
Burlison was among those voting “no” on the budget, saying deeper cuts will be needed because the pandemic has wreaked havoc on the economy.
“It was already baked into the cookie that we were going to experience a recession. The impact of this is going to be unpredecented,” Burlison said.
He predicted Parson will have to further cut the budget at some point in the coming fiscal year.
The legislation is House Bill 2001-2018.
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