Vets home trans­fers would cre­ate $19M deficit, re­port says

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - NEWS - BY TODD RICHMOND As­so­ci­ated Press

MADI­SON, WIS. — Law­mak­ers would drive Wis­con­sin’s vet­er­ans homes into the red if they ap­prove the state Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs’ bud­get pro­posal to keep trans­fer­ring the homes’ sur­plus rev­enue to a trust fund, ac­cord­ing to a new re­port.

Leg­is­la­tors pulled tens of mil­lions of dol­lars in sur­plus rev­enue from the homes over the last decade to shore up DVA’s vet­er­ans trust fund. That ac­count pays for a wide ar­ray of vet­eran ser­vices and ben­e­fits, in­clud­ing tuition re­im­burse­ment, grants and burial hon­ors. The ac­count is funded largely with rev­enue from loan re­pay­ments, fed­eral grant and sales from the state vet­er­ans mu­seum. But loan re­pay­ments have been dwin­dling over the past decade.

Democrats have ar­gued the trans­fers are a bad idea. They say the homes need every cent as they grap­ple with staffing short­ages.

DVA’s 2019-21 bud­get re­quest calls for shift­ing an­other $35.8 mil­lion from the homes to the trust fund. A Leg­isla­tive Fis­cal Bu­reau memo shows the trans­fer would place the homes in an $18.8 mil­lion deficit by July 1, 2021.

“Rather than prof­it­ing off vet­er­ans in nurs­ing homes to back­fill Repub­li­can bud­get deficits, we should be im­prov­ing vet­eran care and ex­pand­ing ac­cess to qual­ity health ser­vices,” Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Jen­nifer Shilling, a La Crosse Demo­crat who re­quested the LFB memo, said in a state­ment.

The num­bers are pre­lim­i­nary and will be re­vised as the gov­er­nor’s ad­min­is­tra­tion crafts the ex­ec­u­tive ver­sion of the bud­get ahead of a Fe­bru­ary in­tro­duc­tion. Who will lead that ef­fort is still in doubt; vot­ers will choose be­tween Repub­li­can Gov. Scott Walker and Demo­crat Tony Evers in Novem­ber.

Who­ever wins the elec­tion will face hard ques­tions about where to find the money to keep the trust fund in the black.

DVA spokes­woman Carla Vigue pointed out the agency’s bud­get re­quest pro­poses us­ing gen­eral state tax rev­enue to fill the trust fund. She called in­vest­ing in vet­er­ans pro­grams “an ab­so­lute pri­or­ity for us.”

The LFB memo, how­ever, cau­tions that DVA didn’t set a limit on spend­ing gen­eral tax dol­lars and it’s not clear un­der what con­di­tions the agency could use that money.

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