Sep 13, 2007

Senate Republican budget proposal cuts $6 million from Veterans budget

LANSING - Senate Republicans sent a mixed message to military veterans in Michigan the last two weeks with both a huge cut to the Veterans Affairs budget and an ambitious package of bills addressing veteran’s affairs.

Last week the Senate Republicans rolled out a package of 33 bills aimed at supporting Michigan military personnel by offering programs and incentives for health support, financial and economic incentives and educational opportunities. But on Tuesday, the Director of the Senate Fiscal Agency briefed the Appropriations Committee on Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop's, R-Rochester, proposal to balance the budget that begins Oct. 1 with $1 billion dollars in cuts and one-time revenue fixes.

That proposal cuts includes $2.2 million from the Michigan Military and Veterans Affairs Department, and it reduces grants for Veteran Service Organization by $3.9 million. At a time when more and more U.S. Army combat troops and Marines are returning home from Afghanistan and Iraq with both physical and mental health problems and National Guard call ups are the highest since World War II the veteran's budget is taking a $6 million hit.

At this point it’s unclear how much the proposed measures in the 33-bill package will affect the General Fund budget. Many of the measures will affect other budgets, like higher education. However, higher education is also suffering from cuts under the current Senate budget proposal. In addition to cuts already suffered by colleges and universities to fix a deficit in the current budget, a 2.5 percent increase for higher education and eliminating a similar increase for community colleges is proposed in the budget that begins on Oct. 1.

According to a press release from the Senate Republic Caucus, the package of bills from the Senate “would eliminate a one-time service fee from the Michigan Motor Vehicle Code for honorably discharged veterans who are totally disabled, providing them with a special registration for private passenger vehicles. The disabled veteran would continue to receive subsequent registration plates and tabs free of charge.”

The bills would also allow children of active military personnel who are transferred out of state to keep their in-state residency status for determining college tuition; allow spouses and children of an active duty member of the armed forces stationed in Michigan to be considered a resident when determining college tuition; prohibit the lapse of life insurance policies for active duty military personnel; and ban foreclosure or seizure of the property of an active duty member while they are deployed and for six months after they return.

On Wednesday the Senate Senior Citizens and Veterans Affairs Committee began hearing testimony on of some the first bills in the package with an overview. Hearings are to begin next week on specific bills. Expected to be presented to the Committee next week is Senate Bill 751, which sets aside state contracts for veteran-owned businesses. Additionally, SB 732, SB 733 and SB 734, which designates certain veteran-owned businesses as Michigan patriot businesses, will also be before the committee.

It’s unclear how the cuts to the Michigan Military and Veterans Affairs Department will affect any of these bills.

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