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Lawmakers Criticize Walker For Veto, Call For More Veterans Fund Oversight

Vetoed Provision Would've Given Lawmakers More Power Over Veterans Fund

diane cordell (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Lawmakers from both parties criticized Gov. Scott Walker for his veto of a Veterans Trust Fund oversight measure during a Tuesday meeting of the Legislature’s audit committee.

Last month, the governor vetoed part of the state budget that would’ve given lawmakers power to approve transfers in and out of the Veterans Trust Fund. According to the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs, since its creation, the fund has been the primary source of revenue for providing veterans and their family members access to programs, benefits and services. In recent years, the fund has taken millions of dollars from profitable veterans’ homes, like the Wisconsin Veterans Home at King, to support less profitable facilities.

Two state audits of King released earlier this year outlined challenges with project delays, staffing shortages and mandatory overtime at the home.

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“That gives us heartburn here on this committee, that we don’t have legislative oversight, even though I know it’s veterans helping veterans,” said Rep. Samantha Kerkman, R-Salem, co-chair of the audit committee.

Kerkman’s co-chair, Sen. Robert Cowles, R-Green Bay, echoed her concerns.

“I remain concerned about the transfers, until we have a really good handle on whether the staffing, the overtime is at acceptable levels,” Cowles said. “We’ll keep pushing for accountability.”

The governor’s office pushed back, arguing giving lawmakers power over the transfers is unnecessary, because they can weigh in on transfers that are included in the state budget.

“These transfers are completely transparent and publicly available information,” said Walker spokesman Tom Evenson. “Also, the expected 2017-19 transfers are already approved by the Legislature when they approved the budget so an additional review would only serve to create uncertainty and delay in the funding of other veterans benefits.”

Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette agreed.

“To imply that we are directly approving transfers is completely inaccurate,” said Nygren.

Nygren pointed out the oversight language was approved by the state budget committee, which he co-chairs, on a bipartisan, unanimous vote.

Some lawmakers, however, voiced support for the governor’s veto.

“I don’t think we as a Legislature can micromanage the executive branch and what they’re supposed to execute,” said Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield. “So I just want to make sure we’re a little careful there.”

The state Department of Veterans Affairs is scheduled to report back to the committee in January on ongoing efforts to implement audit recommendations at King.

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