ST. LOUIS — Missouri House Majority Leader John Diehl wants to let voters decide whether to abolish the state lottery, which he calls an "unstable and "inefficient" funding source for public education.
Diehl said he will present the idea to fellow Republican lawmakers in hopes that the House could consider a measure next year that would place a referendum on the lottery on the 2016 ballot.
"I think we should let the voters have a say in whether or not our commitment to public education should be left to the whims of collecting gambling revenue," Diehl told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (http://bit.ly/1wXPisZ ). "The lottery, at the end of the day, is government-run gambling, and it's been inefficient."
The lottery had record sales of nearly $1.16 billion during the 2014 budget year that ended June 30, marking its fifth straight year of growth and the fourth consecutive year that it set a new high for revenues. Yet the amount of lottery proceeds transferred to education declined to $267 million this past year from a high of nearly $289 million in 2013.
The amount of lottery revenues provided to education had consistently been above 25 percent annually during the past decade but dipped to 23.1 percent this past year. The rest of the money goes toward prizes and lottery operations.
That education funding decline prompted Gov. Jay Nixon to order a review of the lottery's operations and replace all five of its commission members, with an emphasis on boosting the percentage of money that goes to education.
If the lottery were eliminated, legislators would have to come up with about $278 million that the lottery is expected to generate for education under the latest annual estimate.
Diehl said the money could come from growth in state general revenues or by cutting less important programs.
Some lawmakers are urging caution. If the state had to replace lottery funding for education, programs such as mental health could face budget cuts, said Sen. Joe Keaveny, D-St. Louis.
Missouri voters authorized the lottery in 1984 and voted to earmark lottery proceeds for education in 1992.
Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com
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