Fund diversion from Texas veterans lottery program raises questions

The Fort Worth Star-TelegramApril 7, 2011 

Beginning in 2009, Texans could start buying scratch-off lottery tickets that did something unusual amid all the convenience store offerings -- support a specific program.

The $2 Veterans Cash game supports the Fund for Veterans' Assistance, which issues grants to nonprofits around the state to provide counseling, transportation, housing and child care for veterans and their families. It is the only game in the state with dedicated revenue, a measure supported enthusiastically two years ago by some in the North Texas legislative delegation.

But the budget crisis has arrived even to the Veterans Cash scratch-off game.

Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, a former naval officer, inserted a rider into the Senate budget bill that would divert some of that grant money from the Fund for Veterans' Assistance to cover budget cuts within the Texas Veterans Commission.

Many of the leaders of the state's major veterans organizations are troubled by the suggestion that state employee salaries are more important than veterans programs in Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio.

"If they do that, it's going to be a major turnoff for the veterans community," said John Miterko, legislative liaison for the Texas Coalition of Veterans Organizations, a group that represents 35 organizations such as the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Vietnam Veterans of America.

The issue got legislatively murkier Wednesday, though.

The Senate Committee on Veteran Affairs and Military Installations unanimously passed a bill from Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, that would prohibit revenue from the lottery tickets to be used for state employee salaries. That bill would allow the lottery money to be spent only on grants.

"If one of our highest priorities is going to be providing services to combat veterans, then we should not be diverting the Veterans Cash scratch-off funds to general revenue or allow the funds to be raided during a budget crisis," Davis said.

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