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April 15, 2011 - Session Watch

Budget fix shouldn't pit vets against vets

By Sen. Carlos Uresti

Senate Bill 1739 represents a good example of a dilemma — defined as a choice between two undesirable outcomes.

Since its debut on Veterans Day in 2009, the Veterans Cash scratch-off lottery game has generated some $11 million. This money has kept veterans from being kicked out of their homes and funded special courts for troubled vets who have run afoul of the law.

It is money well spent, and every time a Texan buys a Veterans Cash ticket, they are helping those who served and sacrificed.

So does the Texas Veterans Commission, which provides counseling, employment services, education programs and benefits claims assistance to veterans and oversees a fund for veterans assistance.

Looking for ways to address a $27 billion budget shortfall, Senate Finance Chairman Steve Ogden has proposed diverting almost $3 million from the Veterans Cash ticket game. Where would that money go? Brace for the irony: The Texas Veterans Commission.

Senate Bill 1739 by Sen. Wendy Davis would forbid diverting the scratch-off ticket money. If it becomes law, the Veterans Commission could lose up to one-fifth of its staff of claims administrators. If it fails and the funds are diverted, public interest in the lottery game is expected to decline, along with sales.

So the dilemma becomes clear. Either way, veterans lose out.

John Miterko, who represents 35 veterans groups across Texas, told the San Antonio Express-News that diverting money from the scratch off game "is going to be a disaster."

Even the executive director of the Veterans Commission, retired Army Col. Thomas Palladino, supports Sen. Davis' bill and advocates keeping the lottery game revenues intact. That's not the kind of sacrifice we're used to seeing from a state agency bureaucrat; it does reflect the attitudes commonly displayed by those who served our nation.

I have the utmost respect for Sen. Ogden and fully support his effort to find new revenues for the budget. A Navy veteran, Sen. Ogden possesses a firm understanding of veterans issues and an abiding sympathy for their needs.

His recommendation to divert veterans' lottery money to the Veterans Commission was made in good faith, but I believe there's a way to resolve this issue without having to make undesirable choices.

Let's leave the scratch-off revenue alone. That money has kept veterans in their homes and out of jails through alternative court programs. And given the vital work of the commission's claims' administrators, we can find the $2.8 million elsewhere in the budget to keep them on the job.

Texas veterans made a choice to serve our country, keeping us strong, independent and free. Now, as state legislators, it's our turn to make a choice about supporting our veterans. There should be no dilemma in that.

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©2011 Carlos Uresti Campaign  •  A.M. Hernandez, Treasurer  •  P.O. Box 240431  •  San Antonio, Texas  •  78224
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