Ohio sells bonds to pay for veteran bonuses

COLUMBUS – Ohio would borrow $200 million to pay cash bonuses to veterans of the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq wars under a plan approved yesterday. Gov. Ted Strickland, who vetoed a similar bill last year, is expected to sign the latest version because it pays for the bonuses by selling bonds instead of tapping the state’s rainy-day fund. The latest plan cleared the Democratic-controlled Ohio House in a 92-3 vote and gives veterans of the conflicts $100 for every month of service up to $1,000. The Senate approved the plan last month. Voters would still have to approve the measure on the November ballot because it would increase the state’s debt. House Republicans supported the plan yesterday, despite arguing that the bonuses should be paid for by using money the state already has. Ohio is facing a budget $7 billion deficit in its next two-year budget. ‘I believe that what we are asking here today is for the people of the state of Ohio to commit themselves to borrowing $200 million at a time when we don’t have the money to fund our own budget,’ said Rep. Gerald Stebelton, a Lancaster Republican who voted against the proposal. Strickland, a Democrat, has argued that the state historically uses bonds to pay for bonuses, including after both world wars, and the Vietnam and Korean wars. However, the rainy-day fund wasn’t an option then because it did not exist. The governor has proposed devoting nearly all of the $1 billion rainy-day fund to helping pay for the next two-year budget. Democrats said yesterday that using the rainy-day fund for veterans bonuses would have led to additional cuts in the upcoming budget, possibly preventing the state from continuing a tuition freeze at state colleges. Veterans of the Persian Gulf war would be eligible for bonuses until the end of 2013, while veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars could get the bonuses up to three years after those conflicts end.