Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published August 22 2012
Dayton, Minnesota lawmakers ready for Friday disaster session
Minnesota legislators will return to St. Paul to approve an expected $168 million in disaster relief for floods and wind damage. Funds will come from loans, money the state has in the bank 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 funds 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.
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 would return to the state general fund, loan repayments would 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 for infrastructure repairs.
The bill also would establish low-interest loans for people who cannot get help elsewhere to repair damages. 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 funding.
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 funding would come from borrowing $91.7 million by the state selling bonds.
General tax revenues would fund $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.
Davis works for Forum Communications, which owns The Forum. He can be reached at (651) 290-0707 or email@example.com