Tester backs Butte veterans home

The Montana Standard

BUTTE — U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., assured Butte veterans Friday that he’ll fight to secure federal funding for a new veterans home planned for the Mining City.

But first, he encouraged local officials, veterans and residents across the Treasure State to band together in convincing the Montana Legislature to fund its one-third share of the $10 million project.

“The veterans home is going to be a good thing for all of Montana,” Tester said during a Friday news conference at Butte’s Silver Bow Center.

One veteran recommended taking busloads of veterans to the capital to testify in support of the project, which Tester agreed would be an effective strategy.

He said the best lobbying is done by everyday people rather than paid lobbyists.

“It takes leadership on the ground to make things like this happen,” Tester said.

Dave McLean, chairman of Anaconda’s Veterans’ Home Committee, said Montanans need to begin rallying now to ensure lawmakers free the money during the next legislative session.

“We have to strike while the iron is hot because we don’t know what the next four or five years will bring,” he said.

Rep. Jon Sesso, D-Butte, introduced the 2009 bill which set up funding for construction and operation of the new home and said he’ll work during the 2011 legislative session to help ensure that cash is appropriated.

House Bill 213 took a larger portion of the cigarette taxes already collected in the state and diverted them toward veteran affairs, specifically about $1 million each year for the new home.

Money already is being diverted for that purpose and Sesso said he’ll ask the Legislature to give its final blessing in 2011 to appropriate those funds.

“I have a confidence that we’ll get the Legislature to agree to that because it’s not like we have to go looking for the money, it’s already established by this revenue stream,” he said.

Once the Legislature signs off, Tester said he’ll go to work on the federal level.

Tester will play a key role in making the project a reality, as he sits on both the appropriations and the veterans affairs committees.

Once funded on the state level, application for funding will be made to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Tester said.

Then the senator plays politics by applying pressure to fund the project through the veterans affairs budget as soon as the 2012 federal budget is established.

He’s already discussed the project with Eric Shinseki, secretary of veterans affairs, when the two met just over a month ago.

“He was very open to it,” Tester said.

The new 60-bed veterans home is planned to serve southwest Montana with a series of cottages on a 10-acre parcel of land donated by M&H Holdings. The property is located about 700 feet south of Mount Highland Drive between the East Blacktail Loop Road and Continental Drive.