Disaster aid receives support, but Gauthier incident clouds sessionMuch of nearly $168 million of new funds in the bill, and $12.7 million already appropriated but no longer needed for various projects, would head to Northeastern Minnesota.
By: Don Davis, State Capitol Bureau
ST. PAUL — Provisions to provide Minnesotans financial aid to recover from summer storms received little opposition this morning as two committees discussed a bill the full Legislature is to debate later today.
Much of nearly $168 million of new funds in the bill, and $12.7 million already appropriated but no longer needed for various projects, would head to Northeastern Minnesota. Officials from that part of the state thanked lawmakers for considering their needs.
“We’re all frustrated and angry that we are all here talking about expenditure of resources, and it is not to build, it is to rebuild...” Duluth Mayor Don Ness told the House Ways and Means Committee. “We are fixing what was not broken before a 24-hour storm.”
Ness added: “As much as the damage, this has been an emotional event.”
A 10-inch rainfall during 24 hours in June damaged roads, homes and other Duluth facilities. The same storm affected many other Northeastern Minnesota communities, some with severe damage, and to a lesser extent communities elsewhere in the state.
While legislators consider the disaster-relief bill, some House Republicans are in backroom talks about whether they can take action about another Duluth incident. They are looking into what they might do about Rep. Kerry Gauthier, DFL-Duluth, who told police he had oral sex with a 17-year-old boy at a rest area.
Since any action probably would need solid Republican support as well as some Democratic-Farmer-Laborite votes, taking official action would be difficult during the special session that legislative leaders and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton called only for work on the disaster bill.
However, Dayton said he expects lawmakers to talk about other issues. The Gauthier incident is the most-discussed Capitol topic this week.
Gauthier had said he does not plan to attend the special session.
There was no public talk about Gauthier this morning while lawmakers considered disaster relief.
The bill being considered would provide almost $168 million in new funds, coming from both borrowing and using some from the state budget reserve.
An additional $12.7 million would be moved from funds that have been appropriated in past years, mostly for disaster relief, but not needed.
The biggest spending is $79 million for transportation, especially to repair or replace washed-out streets and highways.
The federal government eventually will pay more than $200 million to Minnesota, but some checks may not arrive for up to six years. The disaster bill provides funds to do needed repairs now, and once federal money arrives it will be put in state bank accounts.
Ways and Means Chairwoman Mary Liz Holberg, R-Lakeville, said some money will be available almost immediately, but other funds will not be spent for a couple of years.
The morning’s most emotional testimony came from Rep. Mary Murphy, DFL-Hermantown, who said this is the first time since she became a lawmaker in 1977 that she has dealt with such a disaster in her area.
Her constituents are frustrated, she said, because those who control government funds often said, “We don’t do basements.”
She said that hurts those affected by floods because they need furnaces, water heaters and other things in those basements.
Murphy was told some state funds would be available to people with basement problems.
The lawmaker said she trusts lawmakers and state agencies will do the right things and help flood victims.