Facing a flurry of opposition from veterans and questions from legislators, Gov. Doug Ducey on Tuesday abandoned his plan to pay for cemetery operations from a fund to help the families of wounded veterans.
“We’re going to find another source of revenue,” said Daniel Scarpinato, the governor’s spokesman.
Scarpinato said the governor does not yet know exactly where he will come up with the $929,400 needed to run the existing state veteran cemetery in Sierra Vista as well as the costs for new cemeteries near Flagstaff and Marana set to open next year. But he said the governor believes the dollars can be found somewhere else in the proposed $9.1 billion budget.
Ducey’s reversal comes less than 12 hours after Capitol Media Services first reported on Ducey’s proposal.
The plan drew an outcry from representatives of several veteran organizations. And the story resulted in lawmakers asking questions about the move when they were briefed Tuesday morning by John Arnold, the governor’s budget chief.
Among those was Sen. Don Shooter, R-Yuma, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee through which the budget plan must pass.
“I wasn’t trying to be confrontational,” Shooter said after he spoke with Arnold. “I just think they made a mistake.”
Shooter said he is glad Ducey has had a change of heart.
It was not just the plan to raid the Military Family Relief Fund, which consists of entirely of voluntary donations specifically to help families of veterans, that caused consternation among veteran groups.
It was also the fact that they were not consulted about the move — or had a chance to comment — before Ducey trotted out his budget late last week. Only after learning of the plan could they contact the governor’s office.
Scarpinato made the best of the uproar for the governor.
“He appreciates the feedback from the veteran community and will be adjusting his budget so that we best protect this fund while also ensuring our veterans who have lost their lives have a proper resting place,” Scarpinato said.
The 2007 law earmarks the funds to assist family members of military personnel from Arizona who were killed or wounded in the line of duty.
Based on need, some of it goes to providing living expenses for widows and widoiwers for up to six months after the end of military pay and death benefits. That includes mortgage or rent, utility payments and other basic living expenses.
Grants are available for spouses and minor children of wounded warriors who need money to be near the military hospital where they are being treated.
There is about $5 million now in the fund, all of it from donations specifically for those purposes.
It was originally supposed to sunset in 2012. But Sen. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, managed to have it continued for six more years because of ongoing need; it now will expire in 2018 unless renewed again.
Scarpinato said Ducey is committed to finding other dollars for the cemeteries. He has no real choice: If the state does not come up with operating dollars, then Arizona has to reimburse the federal government the $15 million it spent constructing the facilities.