Minnesota Calls Special Session for Flood Relief

Gov. Mark Dayton has called the Legislature back into special session to provide $167.5 million in state aid to storm-ravaged parts of northeastern and central Minnesota.
by | August 23, 2012

Gov. Mark Dayton has called the Legislature back into special session on Friday, Aug. 24, to provide $167.5 million in state aid to storm-ravaged parts of northeastern and central Minnesota.

Dayton announced the session Wednesday, minutes after he and House and Senate Republican and Democratic-Farmer-Labor leaders signed an agreement limiting lawmakers' action to disaster relief.

The negotiations on the package went "down to the wire," Dayton said. He had set an 11:30 a.m. deadline for the package, and threatened to criticize GOP legislative leaders for dragging their feet if they didn't meet it.

The $167.5 million price tag for the appropriation is $28 million less than the state's top emergency management official requested earlier this month.

The money would come from the state's budget reserve, bonding, a highway fund and transfers from other accounts. The governor said the state still would have a "fairly comfortable" balance in its budget reserve after appropriating money for disaster relief.

Under the agreement, the Legislature would vote on one disaster relief funding bill with no amendments, and no other bills could be considered. Some Republican lawmakers had discussed rejecting new contracts with state employee unions during the special session, but the agreement prevents that action.

The agreement also says the session, which will start at 2 p.m. Friday, can last until no later than 7 a.m. Saturday.

Signing the pact with Dayton were House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove; House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis; Senate Majority Leader David Senjem, R-Rochester; and Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook.

Dayton said in July that he planned to call a special session to provide state aid to 13 counties and three tribal nations declared disaster areas after June storms caused flash floods in Duluth and other northeastern Minnesota cities and floods in the central part of the state, including Dakota County.

The damage far exceeded the initial $108 million estimate to roads, bridges and other public infrastructure. In addition, about 1,700 homes were damaged.

President Barack Obama declared a federal disaster in the affected areas in July. Federal aid will pay for 75 percent of the approved costs to repair and replace public, but not private, property. Under Wednesday's agreement, the state would provide a 25 percent match, letting local governments off the hook.

Federal officials denied the state's request to provide disaster relief to individuals and small businesses, although the Small Business Administration is offering some loans. The state agreement provides $12.7 million for low-interest loans to help rebuild homes and provide temporary housing, and $15 million in aid for businesses.

The plan also would provide $79 million for roads, bridges and other transportation projects; $26 million for public safety needs; and $19 million for flood prevention and repairing state Department of Natural Resources facilities.

(c)2012 the Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.)

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