Much remains uncertain about next year’s state budget with the coronavirus-fueled economic downturn wreaking havoc on revenues.
At least one thing is for sure, though: There’s going to be a fight over gambling.
The Missouri Senate passed its spending plan Tuesday with language allowing the state lottery to install 100 new pull-tab machines throughout the state and open up truck stops to the games for the first time.
Currently, only 500 are allowed and they can only be installed in veteran and fraternal organizations.
The pull-tab name refers to the perforated tabs covering slot-machine style symbols on tickets dispensed by the machines. Players pull back the tabs to see if they’ve won a prize.
Roughly a fifth of every dollar spent on the lottery is funneled into education,according to the state, so the move could help supplement school funding at a time when lawmakers are desperately trying to avoid cuts.
But a number of lawmakers objected to the idea, calling the expansion morally wrong.
Sen. David Sater, R-Cassville, said it would be “a direct offense to our low-income people who will divert their money to things like this.”
“This bothers me a lot,” he added.
Sen. Ed Emery, R-Lamar, said the same thing and that it would be even worse at a time when people are reeling from the pandemic and the resulting downturn.
"With people not thinking as straight as they normally would with all the pressures of the stay-at-home and lack of community and other things that would stabilize a person, I think the impact would be even greater than it would at another time,” he said.
Sen. Eric Burlison, R-Battlefield, added that the idea “disgusted” him.
“I'm not a fan of funding our schools through gambling,” he said.
After others stood up and expressed their concerns, Emery said he hoped Senate Appropriations Chairman Dan Hegeman, R-Cosby, would consider the complaints in negotiations with the House over the budget later this week.
The bill with the change ultimately passed out of the Senate 21-10.
The $30 billion spending plan, which is spread out over more than a dozen bills, also attempts to restore cuts to state colleges and universities made by the House, though it remains uncertain whether the state will actually have the money to do so.
It also authorizes the state to spend a total of $50 million in federal money to provide relief for small businesses and aid to meat processing plants strained by the coronavirus outbreak, which has infiltrated a number of plants in the region.
More than 400 workers at a Triumph Foods plant in St. Joseph have tested positive for the disease in recent days.
Lawmakers expect to pass a final budget Friday.
The legislation pertaining to pull tabs isHouse Bill 2004. The fiscal year 2021 budget is contained withinHouse Bills 2001-2013.