UPDATED: Disaster aid approved; Gauthier's conduct not addressed
ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota Legislature overwhelmingly today approved $180 million for communities damaged by summer floods and wind storms.
The House voted 125-3 for the measure, with the Senate following 60-7.
The entire special session took less than two hours, and an expected House Republican protest about Rep. Kerry Gauthier’s sexual meeting with a 17-year-old boy did not materialize.
Much of nearly $168 million of new funds in the bill, and $13 million already appropriated but no longer needed for various projects, would head to northeastern Minnesota. But other funds are to be spent elsewhere, too, especially counties just south of the Twin Cities.
Northeastern Minnesota officials thanked lawmakers for considering their needs.
“We’re all frustrated and angry that we are all here talking about expenditure of resources, and it is not to build, it is to rebuild...” Duluth Mayor Don Ness told the House Ways and Means Committee. “We are fixing what was not broken before a 24-hour storm.”
Ness added: “As much as the damage, this has been an emotional event.”
A 10-inch rainfall during 24 hours in June damaged roads, homes and other Duluth facilities. The same storm affected many other northeastern Minnesota communities, some with severe damage, and to a lesser extent communities elsewhere in the state.
The bill, which Gov. Mark Dayton supports, will provide almost $168 million in new funds, coming from both borrowing and using some from the state budget reserve.
Nearly $13 million more will be moved from funds that have been appropriated in past years, mostly for disaster relief, but not needed.
The biggest spending is $79 million for transportation, especially to repair or replace washed-out streets and highways.
The federal government eventually will pay more than $200 million to Minnesota, but some checks may not arrive for up to six years. The disaster bill provides funds to do needed repairs now, and once federal money arrives it will be put in state bank accounts.
Ways and Means Chairwoman Mary Liz Holberg, R-Lakeville, said some money will be available almost immediately, but other funds will not be spent for a couple of years.
The morning’s most emotional testimony came from Rep. Mary Murphy, DFL-Hermantown, who said this is the first time since she became a lawmaker in 1977 that she has dealt with such a disaster in her area.
Her constituents are frustrated, she said, because those who control government funds often said, “We don’t do basements.”
She said that hurts those affected by floods because they need furnaces, water heaters and other things in those basements.
Murphy was told some state funds would be available to people with basement problems.
The lawmaker said she trusts lawmakers and state agencies will do the right things and help flood victims.
House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said Republicans did not bring up the Gauthier issue because he deserves “due process,” even if is conduct was wrong. Zellers continued to ask that Gauthier, DFL-Duluth, resign, although there was no sign he planned to.