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Nixon concerned about money for veterans’ homes

Gov. Jay Nixon warned Monday that funding for state-run veterans’ homes could be in jeopardy unless lawmakers act soon to approve a new, dedicated funding stream.

The state’s budget plan for next year assumes that lawmakers will come up with millions of dollars from an earmarked funding source to help run the seven skilled-care nursing facilities, which have room for 1,350 military veterans. But the governor and lawmakers have yet to agree on the details of that additional funding, and a bill is still pending in a Senate committee.

Lawmakers have until May 11 to send the governor a budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1. They have one additional week after that to pass a bill authorizing a dedicated funding source for veterans’ homes before the annual legislative session ends.

“Missouri veterans’ homes provide critical services for thousands of men and women who have served our country with honor and bravery. Unfortunately right now, funding for these homes is in jeopardy,” Nixon said Monday at a Capitol news conference.

A budget plan passed last week by the Senate assumes veterans’ homes will receive about $32 million from a new dedicated funding source — about one-third of the total budgeted amount for staff salaries and benefits, utilities and other administrative and operational costs, according to Senate Appropriations Committee staff. As an alternative, the Senate budget plan also added $10 million from general revenues for the veterans’ homes, but that would only provide enough for a few months of operations.

In January, Nixon embraced a plan to generate about $50 million annually for veterans’ home through a $1 increase in the per-patron fees charged to casinos. But it didn’t fare well in the Legislature.

Instead, the House passed legislation March 1 that would indirectly rely on Missouri Lottery proceeds to boost funding for veterans’ homes. The plan would reduce the amount of money from ticket sales that the lottery returns in prizes, requiring it to transfer more revenue to the state. That additional money would go to early childhood education, while casino fees would be redirected to veterans’ homes.

The House legislation is pending in a Senate veterans’ affairs committee, where the chairman — Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau — has been working on a revised plan for funding veterans’ homes. Crowell said Monday that his plan would direct to veterans’ homes the casino fees that currently go to early childhood education. But instead of tapping into lottery revenues, he said his plan would rely on tobacco revenues to finance early childhood education.

Crowell said he has worked with members of Nixon’s administration on the plan.

Nixon on Monday did not tout any particular plan for funding veterans’ homes but merely encouraged lawmakers to pass something.

“If the General Assembly does not pass a separate bill to increase dedicated funding for our veterans homes, these critical services would be at risk,” Nixon said. “Right now, that bill is stuck in the Missouri Senate. That bill must get to my desk without delay.”

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