Flood relief from bare cupboards


Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, in conjunction with Minnesota’s state legislative leaders, plans a short, special legislative session to approve flood relief funding. This begs two questions. First, does Minnesota actually have any money for flood relief and, second, is Governor Pawlenty counting on the Jindal-Barbour Effect to preserve his political leadership ambitions?

Despite last week’s unseasonal rain storms, Minnesota is not swimming in extra cash. We are, in fact, running a projected $7 billion budget deficit for the 2012-2013 biennium. Media reports suggest that revenue collections are up slightly with Minnesota anticipating a $235 million surplus by June 2011. This may be true but remember that Minnesota’s elected policy leaders have refused to raise revenue through tax increases. Consequently, Minnesota’s revolving budget crises involve cutting state programs, cost-shifting to local communities, “one-time” accounting gimmicks, and spending every dime in the state’s wallet, hoping Minnesota isn’t confronted with some kind of unanticipated natural disaster.

Fall flash floods are unusual in this part of the country but they can and do happen. Suddenly, when Minnesota needs a budgetary reserve, we don’t have one available. Consequently, it’s easiest to think of the state flood relief funding policy as equivalent to digging through the sofa’s cushions in search of lost change.

The bulk of emergency funding comes from federal sources, principally but not exclusively delivered through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. This raises my second question: will Governor Pawlenty benefit from the Jindal-Barbour Effect?

Lousiana Governor Bobby Jindal and Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour are conservative policy advocates well-known for criticizing federal government spending while simultaneously seeking and accepting Federal largesse for their own states. To date, they appear to have suffered few ill consequences for shaming with one finger and grasping with the other nine.

Governor Pawlenty has, in the past several years, become an increasingly vocal critic of federal spending and has pointedly refused or at least selectively refused federal funds for Minnesota needs. This piety appears linked to his interest in higher office and he’s criticized likely contenders such as Governor Jindal for accepting federal funds.

Lost in all of this posturing, of course, are the Minnesota families and communities struggling with flood cleanup and reconstruction. Natural disasters put folks in a tough spot but it’s a position made worse by eight years of conservative state public policy priorities. Now, when people need help as winter begins approaching, the state’s cupboards are bare but we have heated political rhetoric to spare.