Ballot Referendum asks voters for $20 million service compensation for Gulf War veterans

Do you favor indebtedness by the commonwealth of up to $20 million for the payment of compensation for service in the Persian Gulf conflict of 1990-1991? This is the question Pennsylvania voters get to answer on the election’s statewide ballot referendum.

Brad Raub, a freshman history major, said he plans on voting yes on the measure. “I’d say yeah,” Raub said, “because it’s not [the veterans’] fault we started a war.”

The first Gulf War originated with the U.N. Security Council authorizing a U.S.-led coalition to use force against Iraq after then-President Saddam Hussein refused to back down from an invasion of Kuwait.

The ballot question “resurrects an old resolution that had been proposed before,” said Cathy Ennis, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of State. Voters previously rejected, almost by a 2-to-1 margin, a 1992 referendum that would have authorized the state to receive $25 million in loans to compensate Gulf War veterans and build a veterans’ memorial.

Ennis said voters primarily rejected that referendum because of the memorial provision. The resurrected version on this year’s ballot does not contain any measures to construct a memorial for veterans.

The referendum allows voters to approve a measure Gov. Edward G. Rendell signed into law in April, Act 29 of 2006. The bill unanimously passed the state House and passed the state Senate 48-1. State Sen. Jim Ferlo (D., Pittsburgh) is the sole legislator to vote no.

Ferlo voted against the measure because “our troops deserve better,” he said in a letter hosted on the Commonwealth Foundation’s Web site, a conservative think tank based in Harrisburg that also opposes the referendum.

Ferlo said the Pennsylvania House Appropriations Committee estimated that the ballot will cost taxpayers more than $30 million when interest payments and other fees are factored in. The senator said compensation payments of Act 29 should have been earmarked in the state’s budget rather than enacted as a borrowing measure.

“A disservice was done to our soldiers by playing politics with our obligation to them,” Ferlo said in the letter.

Gov. Rendell issued a press release last month urging voters to vote yes on the ballot question. “During the early 1990s, more than 30,000 Pennsylvanians left their homes to serve in the Persian Gulf conflict,” Rendell said. “These brave men and women risked their lives and for that we owe them a debt of gratitude.”

Senior political science major Assaf Holtzman, the former president of the Temple University College Democrats, said he’d probably vote in favor of the referendum, but he also said it doesn’t go far enough.

“I think it’s important to return the favor to the troops,” Holtzman said, “but the federal government should also be compensating.”

If approved, the referendum calls for up to $525 in compensation to Gulf War veterans, $5,000 to veterans who were prisoners of war in the conflict and “$5,000 to the survivors of a veteran who died in the conflict or from a wound, disease or injury sustained during the conflict,” according to the Pennsylvania Department of State.

Sulaiman Abdur-Rahman can be reached at

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