Area Republicans accuse the Dayton administration of using veterans

by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter

A flap over the impact of proposed Republican budgets cuts on military veterans had two area lawmakers, both veterans, speaking out today (Friday, May 6).

Representatives Bob Dettmer, R-Forest Lake, and Bruce Anderson, R-Buffalo Township, charged Dayton Administration officials were using the state’s veterans for political purposes.

“What I’m seeing happening now is happening for the first time (in his time at the State Capitol),” said Dettmer, recently retired from the U.S. Army Reserve, of perceived political gamesmanship with veterans.

Anderson, retired from the Air Force Reserve, charged the administration was using veterans as “whipping boys.” “I think the governor needs to reconsider his thinking,” said Anderson.

Dettmer’s and Anderson’s ire was shared by others on the House/Senate state government finance conference committee.

Members were upset by comments made by state Veterans Affairs Commissioner Larry Shellito that appeared in the Star Tribune in which the former adjutant general indicated Republican budget cuts could result in the closure of a veterans home, higher burial fees for veterans, elimination of the program that places bronze stars on veterans’ graves.

“Quit using veterans as political pawns in the budget process,” said Senate State Government Innovation and Veterans Committee Chairman Mike Parry, R-Waseca, during a conference committee recess today.

Republican committee members honed on Dayton Commissioner of Minnesota Management and Budget  Jim Schowalter, arguing that Dayton financial people were sending out misleading, worse-case scenarios to state agency heads about the impact of their budget.

This is particularly true in regard to veterans, Republican argued.

Not only do House and Senate hold veterans and military affairs funding harmless, a small increase in funding is proposed, Republicans note.

“It seems to me this sends a pretty clear signal of what our intention is,” said House State Government Finance Committee Chairman Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead.

The Senate bill contains language excluding veterans and military affairs funding from cuts.

But Dayton Administration officials argue the proposed Republican state government budget proposal, among other flaws, lacks specificity.

Shellito, a highly respected figure at the State Capitol, told the conference committee that he can’t guess what they’re thinking.

But Republicans were unhappy.

If Dayton officials have questions about the budget, explained Parry, they should first come and ask questions before they “spout off” in public.

At close of the conference committee for the day, Parry curtly sent Schowalter on his way. “You’re dismissed,” said Parry.

A committee member said Schowalter owned them an apology.

But Andrea Mokros, Dayton deputy chief of staff, argued Republicans were trying to run away from their own proposed state budget.

“This is not our budget. These are their numbers,” she said.

The administration has merely been trying to show what the impact of the Republican budget will be, explained Mokros.

Republicans and governor, with scant days until the May 23 close of session, remain at a stand off over budget negotiations.

Dayton is unwilling to begin negotiations until the Republican-controlled Legislature first sends all of their conference committee bills to him.

“I’m willing to compromise, and we’ll meet in the middle,” said Dayton today at a press conference.

But Lanning argued that time is too short for such an approach.

“I lost my optimism that is possible,” he said of successfully closing the session on time.

But Dayton administration officials say the governor has been regularly meeting with Republican committee chairmen.

While Republicans are proposing to spend about $34 billion over the upcoming two-year budget cycle, the Dayton Administration looks to spending about $37 billion.

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