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Wise drums up support for veterans bonus

October 27, 2004|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Gov. Bob Wise drummed up support in Martinsburg Tuesday for a proposed constitutional amendment that would pay for bonuses to veterans who have been involved in conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo.

If passed by voters next Tuesday, the constitutional amendment would award $400 to any veteran who has been in active service outside the combat area, $600 to any veteran who has served or who is serving in a combat zone and $2,000 to families of veterans who have been killed in service.

Wise arrived at the West Virginia Air National Guard base Tuesday afternoon to talk to reporters about the amendment.

Wise said he believes it is important for voters to support the amendment, given the sacrifices veterans have made in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo.

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Wise said the state has issued bonuses to state veterans for every war in which the country has been involved.

"We need to do this. This is a matter of setting priorities," Wise said outside the 167th Airlift Wing, which is based at the Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport south of Martinsburg.

Wise said he wants to make sure voters see the proposed amendment on the ballot. The proposal is at the end of the ballot, and it reads: "To amend the State Constitution to permit the Legislature to appropriate general revenues or sell state bonds for the payment of bonuses and death benefits to veterans of the conflicts in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq or to their relatives, and to impose or increase a tax to pay for the bonds."

Although the proposal calls for a possible tax increase to pay for the bonuses, Wise said a tax increase is not necessary.

The bonuses could be paid through a bond issue or with general fund money, Wise said. Wise said there is about $3.1 billion in the general fund.

Although Wise said the cost of the bonuses is hard to determine, the awards would be capped at $8 million.

Wise said the bonuses would not complicate the state's ability to deal with other issues, such as the $4.2 billion debt in the state Workers' Compensation program.

The debt in the Worker's Compensation program is not dealt with through general fund money, Wise said.

Wise was accompanied by several veteran leaders, including Larry Linch, head of the state Division of Veterans Affairs.

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