JEFFERSON CITY • Missouri House Speaker Steve Tilley is siding with the gambling industry in firm opposition to Gov. Jay Nixon's proposal to increase casino entrance fees.
"It's a tax," Tilley, R-Perryville, told reporters today. "We're not going to increase taxes to fund" veterans homes.
But Tilley, R-Perryville, said he is exploring an alternative that would earmark, among other possible sources, future growth in casino fee revenue -- money that would be generated from increased admissions.
Tilley said he floated his ideas in a meeting with the Democratic governor and hopes to come up with a bipartisan proposal by later this week or next week.
The Missouri Veterans Commission has been using its trust fund to help cover the state's share of operating expenses at the seven nursing homes for veterans. But that fund is expected to run dry next year.
Nixon's proposed budget for the coming fiscal year relies on a $1-per-patron increase in casino admission fees to generate $50 million a year for the homes.
The casino entrance fee is currently $2, with half going to the state and half to the home-dock city or county. Gamblers aren't charged the fee; casinos absorb it.
The Missouri Gaming Association, which represents casinos, has testified that the proposal would take $53 million out of companies' coffers each year and could prompt cuts in marketing, capital projects and staffing at the state's 12 casinos.
Tilley said that while he opposes raising casino fees, establishing a stable funding source for veterans homes is one of "the big issues we need to tackle" this year.
One alternative the House may debate soon would set up up a new Missouri Lottery ticket, with proceeds earmarked for veterans.
Tilley said other ideas include using the growth in casino fee revenue or the money that will come from fees paid by a new casino that is getting ready to open in Cape Girardeau, Mo.
Under a compromise passed by the Legislature in 1998, preschools share some of the casinio admission fee revenue.
Asked whether preschools would lose out if all growth in the fees went to veterans, Tilley said: "We think we can provide more money for veterans and not affect early childhood in a detriminatal way."
In addition to providing operating funds for veterans homes, legislators want to generate money to build another veterans home and reduce the waiting list. The current homes include one in Bellefontaine Neighbors in St. Louis County.