Disaster Relief Work Group seeks more proposal details


A special session for flood relief in Duluth and other areas of northeastern Minnesota remains tentatively scheduled for Aug. 24.

But before any money is appropriated, members of the 2012 Disaster Relief Work Group sought more detailed answers on some of the proposed $190 million appropriation sought by Gov. Mark Dayton. The total was “sticker shock” to some Republicans when it was unveiled nine days earlier.

“The purpose of today is to describe how agencies got to their total request, to drill down into numbers,” said Rep. Mary Liz Holberg (R-Lakeville), who chaired the meeting. “We need to make sure the money we appropriate goes to those most in need from flood damage.” (Watch the hearing.)

President Obama declared 15 counties and three tribal lands a major disaster following the June 19-21 severe storms and flash flooding, and the June 14-18 windstorms and flooding in the western and south-central parts of the state. With such a declaration, the federal government pays 75 percent of costs to help fix public infrastructure and requires a 25 percent match.

Dayton unsuccessfully requested individual assistance for five counties and the Fond du Lac Band. An appeal of the original decision was also rejected.

Included in the administration’s proposal is $82 million for transportation purposes, including $38 million for state trunk highway, bridge and road repair. Chief Financial Officer Tracy Hatch said the goal is for MnDOT to complete most of the projects before the snow flies later this year, although at least three projects will not meet that deadline.

Other parts of the proposal include:

  • $22.03 million for the Department of Natural Resources, including $10.03 million for facility and natural resource damage;
  • $20 million for employment and economic development; and
  • $12.72 million for housing finance, largely for forgivable loans for damaged housing structures.

Dayton and legislative leaders are expected to meet in the near future to work on logistics of a flood relief special session.

Holberg thinks a special session late next week is “very doable.”

Rep. Gene Pelowski, Jr. (DFL-Winona) wondered if the flood relief proposal would go through the committee process during the special session to allow public testimony and let members understand what they will be voting for or against on the House floor. He said a 2007 bill that he carried traveled through various committees.

“A lot of these questions have not been fully answered,” said Senate Majority Leader David Senjem (R-Rochester) said.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook) suggested legislators arrive in the morning and, at minimum, allow the tax and finance committees to hear the bill.