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Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published September 09 2013

Minnesota lawmakers quickly OK disaster aid

ST. PAUL – Minnesota legislators breezed through disaster-relief approval Monday, about as fast as winds that uprooted thousands of trees in June, but spent far more time discussing what Republicans called a “man-made disaster” of tax increases.

Local governments in 18 counties from west-central to southeast Minnesota will split $4.5 million lawmakers approved to help recover from a June 20-26 storm and flood disaster. Federal funds are to cover the remaining damage to public property.

Total damage was $18 million.

Also, Nobles and Rock counties and the city of Worthington were given easier access to $219,000 already approved for April ice storm recovery.

The Senate passed the bill 59-0, with eight absentees. The House voted 127-1 as six members were gone. It took four hours for the formalities, committee meetings, floor debate and the vote, one of the quickest special sessions in recent years.

Gov. Mark Dayton signed the bill shortly after 4 p.m.

Funding for disaster relief comes from unspent money originally provided for last year’s northern Minnesota flooding and windstorms.

Counties to get money for recovery from the June disaster are Benton, Big Stone, Douglas, Faribault, Fillmore, Freeborn, Grant, Hennepin, Houston, McLeod, Morrison, Pope, Sibley, Stearns, Stevens, Swift, Traverse and Wil-kin. The funds are to go to local governments, with no aid available to home and business owners.

Farm tax remains

Rep. Jay McNamar, DFL-Elbow Lake, with seven counties in the disaster area, joined Republicans in complaining that a farm implement repair sales tax was not overturned Monday.

“After such a tough drought last year, and such drastic weather this year, our farmers need some relief,” McNamar said. “It’s unfortunate that we weren’t able to get past partisan politics and get this bill worked into our bipartisan agreement.”

House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, had proposed overturning the farm tax in the special session, and Dayton quickly jumped on board. But legislative leaders and Dayton never came to an agreement on the issue.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said he could not promise any of the new taxes would be overturned next year. He said there will be a couple of budget reports before lawmakers return Feb. 25, and critical infor-mation is needed before deciding the future of any taxes.

Even though the governor and legislative leaders agreed the special session only would deal with disaster aid, more than 40 bills on other topics were introduced Monday. Most dealt with repealing tax increases, but others hit topics as diverse as bullying and finding new ways to fund a Vikings stadium.