JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Sports betting took another step forward in Missouri Tuesday, the same day lawmakers allocated millions for teacher pay raises.
After the House passed the largest budget in the state’s history earlier this month, it’s now in the hands of the Senate and growing.
“I would propose adding $25 million in lottery funding to be used by DESE in perpetuity to support literacy programs for school districts,” Sen. Lauren Arthur (D-Kansas City) told the Senate Appropriations Committee Tuesday.
Not only did the committee pass legislation allowing Missourians to legally place wagers on teams like the Cardinals and Chiefs, but also approved millions of dollars to increase minimum pay for educators.
“It’s something we should have done a long time ago and I’m happy that the Senate is making that investment,” said Sen. Lincoln Hough (R-Springfield).
The starting salary for teachers in the Show-Me State is $25,000, the lowest in the country and nearly 20% under the national average. During his State of the State, Parson asked lawmakers to increase pay to $38,000 for new educators. The governor’s recommendation would have cost the state $21 million. During Tuesday’s committee hearing, Senators added an extra $10 million on top of his request after the House refused to fund the line item.
“When we’re talking about new and retaining teachers, it’s my intention and the Senate’s intention not for only new teachers but also for pay disparities for our educators across the state,” Hough said. “The House actually zeroed that out and what you’ve seen from the committee thus far is a commitment to raise the start pay for teachers but also invest those retention aspects.”
Hough said this takes away the district’s responsibility to pay for part of the pay raise. With $31 million, the state has enough to fully fund the minimum wage of $38,000.
“It’s not just our health care workers that have been arguably some of the toughest situations they’ve ever faced, our educators were asked on the fly essentially to change how they educate our children based on the world that we’re now living in,” Hough said.
Earlier this month, the House approved $37 million dollars for the Career Ladder program, giving raises to experienced teachers. Under the state statute, teachers who take professional credits, mentor students or participate in extracurricular activities fall under the program. The Senate also approved this line item, giving teachers another way to receive a pay raise.
Another part of the Senate’s version of the budget includes spending $214 million to fully fund the transportation formula for the first time in years.
“The administrators and the school boards across the state will no longer have to divert resources from the classroom to make up in their transportation lines,” Hough said. “We fully funded the formula allowing buses to run in this state, no longer do the people making the budget decisions at the school districts have to piece together how they move those students around.”
The House left $1.8 billion unspent in the budget, and besides transportation, the Senate is spending $10 million of that on community colleges.
“I think people don’t really like paying taxes, so, when they do, they expect resources for the money they are giving to the state,” Hough said. “I don’t think the people pay taxes so that the state can put that money in the bank.”
Besides the increase in community colleges, all higher education institutions received a 5.4% funding increase, along with additional money for their retirement plans.
“My belief is with the constraints we have on the workforce right now, the fastest way to get people skilled is oftentimes running them through a certificate program at a local community college,” Hough said.
Before working on the budget, members approved legislation that would allow Missourians to legally place wagers on professional and college sports teams. It’s estimated to bring in $15 million with 90% going towards education.
“I don’t want anyone to think that this is the finished product because it’s not,” said Sen. Dan Hegeman (R-Cosby).
Some hiccups in the Senate, members want more conversations and money spent on problem gambling, and they want the tax rate on wages to increase.
Sen. Denny Hoskins (R-Warrensburg) has filed similar legislation in the upper chamber. Unlike the House bill that calls for an 8% tax on wagers, Hoskins is proposing a 21% tax which is what casinos currently have to pay for other games.
“I can guarantee we will not have a rate at the present House bill of 8%, that will go up,” Hegeman said. “I have no intention of these being the bills that we’re going to be bringing up to the floor.”
Hoskins’ bill would also allow Missourians to bet inside convenience stores that offer chances on the state’s lottery. A priority for Senate president Dave Schatz (R-Sullivan) is to get rid of unregulated, illegal slot machines that have been popping up in gas stations over the years.
He said there are anywhere from 15,000 to 20,000 of those “grey” machines in the state. Since they are unregulated, even if it says you’re going to win two times out of a hundred, there’s a chance it won’t happen.
Hoskins’ bill has been heard in a committee but has not been debated on the Senate floor yet. The House bill is now waiting to be debated on the Senate floor. If it’s approved and signed by the governor, it’s estimated Missourians will wager around $150 million annually.
Other budget items approved by the Senate committee, $2.4 million to fully fund the twice-daily Amtrak service that runs between St. Louis and Kansas City, known as the River Runner. The train was reduced to one trip a day back in January due to a lack of funding.
Within the public safety budget bill, $4.4 million is allocated for body cameras for the Missouri Capitol Police and the Missouri State Highway Patrol. It also includes money for MSHP to buy a helicopter.
By law, the budget must be on the governor’s desk by May 6 at 6 p.m. The committee will be back to work Tuesday working to mark up the remaining budget bills. The legislation is expected to be debated on the Senate floor next week.
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