Senator Jerry Newton: Cuts to veterans and military unacceptable

Disagreement at the state legislature is expected. Republicans and DFLers have a lot we don’t agree on – and that’s no secret. But usually, there are at least a few small areas in which we typically see eye to eye. Taking care of our veterans and active military personnel is one of them.

In fact, just a few weeks ago I was part of a group of bipartisan legislators raising awareness about a new tax benefit available to veterans. And last year I was proud of my work with Sen. Jim Abeler (R-Anoka) to help end homelessness among Minnesota Veterans with the Cottages in Anoka project. We were able to secure a $100,000 appropriation for the Cottages in last year’s supplemental budget.

That’s why the cuts to the state veterans and military affairs agency are all the more alarming. At a time of surplus – both Minnesota House and Senate Republican budget proposals call for significant and harmful cuts that will directly affect our National Guard members.

Specifically, proposals put forth by the House and Senate fall more than $11.7 million short of the funding levels recommended by Governor Dayton. They contain reductions and shifts that will cut enlistment bonuses and tuition for guard members. If passed, these proposals could even cause the closure of some armories in Greater Minnesota.

Both the House and Senate plans, if passed into law, would result in restriction of enlistment and re-enlistment incentives and would reduce the level of tuition reimbursement for our service members. This shortfall of funds would have covered tuition and other bonus programs for the next two years and – if cut – will affect more than 1,900 Minnesota National Guard members. Additionally, the Senate plan cuts another $6 million from the agency’s budget that was supposed to pay for upkeep on aging buildings and maintaining military vehicles.

Budgets are a reflection of our priorities. There is money in the checkbook – a solid $1.65 billion surplus to be exact. In good times and in bad, funding levels have remained steady for veterans and service members in Minnesota with both Republican and Democratic leaders in charge, until now. Further proving that cuts this year are a choice – and a choice I’m troubled by.

My view is this: We should not cut funds for infrastructure and services that go to our national guard when Minnesota has a healthy budget surplus.

As part of our state’s first line of defense when a tragedy strikes, these men and women are vital to our security on a state and national level, and more than 25,000 of them have been deployed to over 33 countries worldwide since 2001. The Minnesota National Guard is no longer simply a regional, strategic reserve force. It is a force being actively utilized all over the world to fight the war on terrorism.

Let’s take a closer look at our priorities, and decide if this is really what the state legislature wants to do.

Jerry Newton represents District 37, which includes portions of Anoka County in the northern Twin Cities metropolitan area.

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