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State Budget Deal Stalls on Nursing Home

State Budget Deal Stalls on Nursing Home



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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Senate and House budget leaders broke up a testy conference on Tuesday without resolving a key budget dispute -- funding a nursing home for military veterans in Ogden.

The disagreement was holding up legislative approval for a state budget expected to top $8.6 billion, with barely 36 hours left to the annual session.

Senators, already annoyed at the House for devoting so much money to highway projects, said the nursing home proposal surfaced in the House without the normal committee or budget scrutiny, and would drain money from the state's rainy day fund.

The House was retaliating by refusing to take any action on Senate-approved bills.

"We love the veterans; there's no question about that. It's just a question of how much the state can do," said Sen. Bill Hickman, R-St. George, who said it was just one of four or five new nursing homes that veterans' groups were seeking to build.

Senate budget chairman Lyle Hillyard suggested the House compromise by dropping the proposal for comprehensive study of nursing home needs for veterans. Hillyard also proposed the House carve the $4.5 million item from a sweeping Senate budget bill and leave it for final action in a separate bill Wednesday.

Both suggestions went over like lead balloons with House budget leader Ron Bigelow, House Majority Leader Jeff Alexander and House Minority Whip Brad King.

The tense conference broke up with no agreement even for a statement of deadlock. Bigelow said the dispute could return to a conference committee with different members.

"I can't understand why they'd even question it," said World War II veteran George Wahlen, 80, of senators at the conference.

Without a nursing home for veterans, some would have to rely on Medicaid, "which puts them on welfare, and I don't think any veteran should be on welfare," said Wahlen, who served 23 years in the Navy and Army, fighting at Iwo Jima, Korea and Vietnam.

Wahlen said his father, a World War I veteran, had to squander his last $40,000 in life savings when he entered a regular nursing home, then fell back on Medicaid for seven years before dying at age 103.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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