House votes down flood prevention funding
ST. PAUL -- Minnesota representatives rejected spending $46.7 million to prevent floods.
The early Saturday vote resulted in 76 representatives for the bill and 57 against; it needed 81 to pass. But the bill's sponsor said he expects an even larger public works bill, including more than just flood projects, to be considered in a likely special legislative session.
Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, said he would not bring up the bill again in the regular session's final days unless enough people who voted against it go to him and promise to change votes.
Many Democrats said they voted against the bill because they want a larger public works program.
"They wanted some money," Howes said, adding that a relatively small bonding bill such as this one is hard to pass.
Howes said he thought there were enough votes, but some representative that he expected to be on his side voted again the measure.
"We will live to fight another day," he said, "and I don't think it will be this session."
The regular legislative session ends Monday night, but most in the Legislature seem to expect a special session will be needed because a budget deal between legislative leaders and Gov. Mark Dayton remains elusive.
When the special session arrives, Howes said, so should a bonding bill.
Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, said he hopes the bill can be brought back, agreeing with Howes that a special session is likely.
Lanning and Howes predicted that a larger bonding bill will be part of a budget agreement Democrat Dayton and Republican legislative leaders eventually will reach.
Most of the money in Howe's bill was not earmarked for specific communities, but Moorhead would have received $16.5 million for its work to prevent floods. Roseau, still recovering from a 2002 flood, would have received $4 million and Georgetown $3 million.
"That appropriation would finish the last phase of flood mitigation work that is needed," Lanning said. "This year we survived the flood of 2011 in much better shape than we could have been if we had not made the investment we have made."
One lawmaker who voted against the bill, Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, questioned why Moorhead deserves so much money when there are needs in other parts of the state.
"Rep. Lanning, we have given you millions and millions and tens of millions and hundreds of millions of dollars," Rukavina said.
Added Rukavina: "Does money grow on trees in Moorhead? It takes money to do these things."
Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, reminded Rukavina that money from the bill would go to 34 of the state's 87 counties. Flood-prevention money in the bill would save the state-flood recovery spending because flood damage is prevented, he said.
"We have been in a wet cycle since the early '90s..." Lanning said. "We have another major disaster right around the corner."
Rep. Carly Melin, DFL-Hibbing, criticized Lanning for rejecting a Dayton tax increase while asking for more money. She said just 191 taxpayers in Clay County would pay higher taxes under the Dayton plan, but he is seeking millions of dollars.
Rep. Kent Eken, DFL-Twin Valley, said communities in his area north of Moorhead experienced their worst-ever floods this year.
"We also need to consider the anxiety that is felt in these flood-prone areas," Eken said.
Howes added some projects Dayton wanted, raising spending from the $28 million he included in an earlier version of the bill. Dayton had sought $55 million.
The defeated bill also included $5 million in cash to help communities recover from this year's floods. That money could be found in a final budget deal, Howes said.
The bill did not include a provision to renovate the Mississippi River Coon Rapids Dam in the northwestern Twin Cities. That $16 million project was removed from the bill earlier in the week. An attempt to add it back to the bill failed Friday night.
Supporters of the dam say the work would have prevented invasive aquatic species such as Asian carp from reaching northern Minnesota lakes.
Another bill would appropriate $442,000 to design the dam renovation and the Legislature could fund construction work next year.
The Howes bill would fund flood projects, such as building dikes and buying out flooded homes, by the state selling bonds. Those bonds would be repaid over several years.
Dayton said he wants a full bonding bill to fund public works projects ranging from fixing state buildings to building trails. He suggested spending $1 billion so construction jobs may be created, but Republicans want only to fund emergency projects this year.
Bonding normally is done in even-numbered years unless there is an urgent need.
Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.