Lawmakers to vote Friday on $168 million in flood aidState leaders will meet Friday to approve disaster relief to help with recovery from Minnesota’s June and July storms.
By: Don Davis, Duluth News Tribune
ST. PAUL — State leaders will meet Friday to approve disaster relief to help with recovery from Minnesota’s June and July storms.
Minnesota legislators will return to St. Paul to approve an expected $168 million in disaster relief for floods and wind damage. Money will come from loans, state bank accounts and transfers from other accounts if lawmakers pass a disaster-relief bill Friday as expected.
An agreement Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders signed Wednesday allows no other action during the session, which must end by 7 a.m. Saturday.
The cost is down from about $190 million Dayton originally proposed, but he and his staff said much of that difference is because legislative and administration negotiators found money not spent on previous projects that can be used for disaster relief.
The most money, $79 million, would go to repair roads. Dayton said some highway damage could take a year to fix.
Devastating flash floods swept through the Duluth area when
10 inches of rain fell over 24 hours in mid-June, washing out roads, overwhelming storm drainage systems and killing 11 animals in the barnyard exhibit at the Duluth Zoo. The heavy rain also flooded basements and prompted evacuations in Barnum, Thomson and Moose Lake. Less than a week earlier, windstorms and flooding caused extensive damage in central Minnesota and counties southeast of the Twin Cities.
State emergency management officials have estimated that damage to public infrastructure will top $150 million. About 1,700 homes sustained damage, and few homeowners had flood insurance.
In early July, windstorms damaged power lines, trees and state parks in north-central Minnesota, but the damage wasn’t enough to qualify for federal aid.
The Democratic governor and Republicans who control the Legislature have negotiated for weeks on a relief package. On Wednesday, they struck a deal just minutes before Dayton appeared at a Capitol news conference, where his staff handed out copies of an agreement signed by Dayton and the four top legislative leaders.
“We’re hopefully going to provide a safety net to help people survive this,” Dayton said.
House Republican spokeswoman Jodi Boyne said the bill will include reforms the GOP wants to make disaster aid more accountable.
For example, under the bill, money not spent on disasters returns to the state general fund, loan repayments will return to a new state fund to pay for future disaster recovery and stricter accountability measures would be implemented.
The session is to begin at 2 p.m. Friday, although House and Senate committees will look over the bills earlier Friday. The agreement does not allow the committees or the full Legislature to make changes unless all four legislative leaders and Dayton sign an agreement.
“This is not our budget,” Dayton said. “This is the amount of the damage.”
Much of the money would go to state and local governments to repair infrastructure.
The bill also would establish low-interest loans for people who cannot get help elsewhere to repair damage. Some money will be available for temporary housing.
The federal government rejected Minnesota’s request for individual and business aid.
“Nobody can make them whole,” Dayton said of storm victims, but if the Legislature passes the relief package it will help.
Most of the money would go to severe floods in the northeast, including Duluth. Communities south of the Twin Cities, including some in Goodhue and Dakota counties, also would get flood-relief money.
Areas along U.S. 2, especially in the Bemidji area, affected by windstorms in early July would receive $7.9 million.
The biggest chunk of money would come from borrowing $91.7 million by the state selling bonds.
General tax revenue would cover $74.5 million of the package, with $45.4 million of that coming from the state’s budget reserve. There would be $14 million from a highway fund and $12.7 million in transfers from other state funds.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.