State VA chief: Budget cuts by GOP would hurt veterans

Republican committee chairman in the House called Shellito's analysis "a complete overreaction."

Republican budget cuts could trigger the closure of at least one veterans' home, higher burial fees for veterans' families and elimination of the Bronze Star grave marker program, according to state Veterans Affairs Commissioner Larry Shellito.

Shellito, who led the state National Guard under former Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, said the budget as it stands would result in layoffs and other cuts, even though Republicans had pledged to protect veterans from spending reductions. "I'm very concerned," Shellito said.

Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, the House State Government Finance chair, said the administration's estimates are a "worse, worse, worse case scenario." He called Shellito's analysis "a complete overreaction."

Sen. Mike Parry, R-Waseca, Lanning's counterpart in the Senate, was not available for comment, despite repeated requests.

Although rhetoric at the Capitol has heated up as the budget process grinds toward a May 23 adjournment, Shellito said his projections are not part of that fight. "I don't play games," said Shellito, a major general in the Guard. "It's really serious."

In a letter to Gov. Mark Dayton on Thursday, Shellito said the budget proposals for his department would result in layoffs for more than 100 employees.

The Military Affairs Department, which is separate from Veterans Affairs, said legislative budgets could leave too little money to properly maintain state-owned National Guard armories and the House budget bill could "jeopardize the ability of the state to retain the Army and Air National Guard units currently assigned."

The dire projections came as lawmakers and Dayton remained locked in a battle over numbers. Republicans in the GOP-controlled House and Senate say they will approve no more than $34 billion in state spending for the next two years and their budgets are a reflection of that ceiling. Dayton, a DFLer, says the state needs $37 billion to maintain core services.

Although lawmakers went out of their way to shield military and veterans spending in many areas, they also ordered general cuts to state government and its employees. In their budget measures, legislators did not exempt veterans spending from those across-the-board cuts.

According to the administration, the House and Senate budget measures would slash spending by at least 9 percent. The House bill would go further, the Dayton officials said. It would add about 170 layoffs to their 10 percent cut, according to an analysis.

"This is just one example of the serious consequences of the cuts being proposed by the Legislature," said Andrea Mokros, Dayton's deputy chief of staff. "It is a real example of what Minnesotans should expect under the current budget proposal."

Lanning said that while his budget bill would require staff and spending reductions, the Dayton administration could control where those reductions are made. It could, he suggested, spare veterans affairs from deep cuts if it wished.

Rachel E. Stassen-Berger Twitter: @rachelsb

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