Smaller flood-fighting bill without specifics debated in House panel
ST. PAUL -- A new legislative plan to fund anti-flood efforts would spend less than one discussed earlier this year and gives no guarantees about what projects would be funded.
A bill debated in a Wednesday House Capital Investment Committee hearing would send $28 million to flood-fighting projects statewide. That is less than a $55 million proposal discussed in the committee a few weeks ago that officials of flood-affected communities said at the time was too small.
A similar bill is expected to be debated in the Senate.
Capital Investment Chairman Larry Howes, R-Walker, said he expects the bill to remain the same size.
However, Howes said that a second so-called bonding bill remains possible.
"My experience tells me there will be something in final negotiations," he said, but that decision will be made by Republican legislative leaders and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton.
Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, said he is not satisfied with the bill.
"It's a first step," Lanning said. "We are going to try to get a second step."
In an interview, Howes said he is not receptive to spending more money.
The earlier bill, which never received a committee vote, contained a list of communities that would receive funding for things like dikes. But Howes' new bill leaves decisions about where money would be spent to the state Department of Natural Resources.
Howes said the DNR knows how best to use the money and spending decisions should be flexible to meet Minnesota's needs.
A DNR official said that if he were to spend the money now, there would be nine projects in the Red River Valley and 10 elsewhere in the state, but he did not enumerate the projects.
The measure is termed an "emergency" bonding bill, but Rep. Bev Scalze, DFL-Little Canada, said she sees no urgent need to send money to communities not now flooded.
"People in my district may say sitting in traffic three hours is an emergency," she said.
Howes said the money is needed to build structures and do other work to prevent future flooding.
Howes' committee will take up the bill again on Tuesday and he said he hopes to have it in front of the full House about a week later. The Legislature must adjourn May 23.
Dayton on Wednesday said he could sign a bonding bill, even one that goes beyond flood aid, even if a budget is not finished by May 23.
Dayton rejects redistricting
A Republican-written plan to redraw legislative district lines that received no Democratic votes in its first committee hearing is not good enough, Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton said Wednesday.
Dayton said any redistricting bill reaching his desk that lacks strong support from both Democrats and Republicans will be rejected.
The House Redistricting Committee Tuesday night voted 7-5 along party lines to accept the GOP plan.
During the meeting, Democrats complained that they were not allowed to participating in drawing the district lines and Republicans complained that Democrats offered no plan of their own.
"I hope you guys come up with a plan because that is what they pay you to do," Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, told Democrats.
The Legislature and governor are to draw new legislative and congressional district lines after each decade's census so districts are the same size. However, courts usually end up producing the map after lawmakers and governors cannot agree.
Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton said on Wednesday that with each passing day he has more doubts whether a state budget compromise can be reached by the time lawmakers adjourn May 23.
He told reporters that he has plenty of time to negotiate state finances, but will not engage with Republican legislative leaders until House and Senate budget negotiators agree on a final budget to send him.
"I'm waiting for the negotiations to begin," he said.
Despite his doubts, the governor said that his administration has not begun planning for a government shutdown that could occur if no budget is ready by June 30.
The state faces a $5 billion deficit as leaders work to craft a two-year budget of at least $34 billion.
Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.