Lawmakers fight for flood prevention funds
ST. PAUL - Minnesotans are fighting flood waters along the Red River and elsewhere while their lawmakers are fighting about the cost of preventing prevent future floods. The fight spilled over into other areas, too, as House leaders Monday introduced a much smaller public works bill than senators passed earlier this month.
Rep. Alice Hausman, chairwoman of the House public works funding committee, said the proposal "is a taking-care-of-basics bill."
The St. Paul Democrat encouraged members of her committee to find ways to spend more money once the House and Senate begin talks designed to work out a final bill.
With most minds on the Red River, flood prevention was a prime topic once the bill was unveiled.
"Woefully inadequate" is how Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, termed the Hausman proposal. "I am disappointed by that."
Senators early this month folded $26 million in anti-flood programs into a public works funding bills. The House Democrats' plan includes $12.7 million.
Hausman said since she was given a much lower amount to spend than in the Senate bill, she needed to cut everywhere. "It has to be fair."
The $12.7 million is what the state needs to make sure federal flood-prevention money is spent, she said. Hausman said some flood prevention money also could come in an expected flood recovery bill this spring.
"We need to gather some information," she said.
In a Monday afternoon committee meeting, Lanning told Hausman that she is confusing two types of funding. Money from her committee is destined to prevent future floods, such as building permanent dikes. The other money would be used to help Red River and other communities rebuild after this year's flooding.
A recovery bill probably would not contain money for flood prevention, Lanning said.
Northwestern Minnesota lawmakers want the money included in the original public works bill - and want more money than Hausman included.
"If we are going to do a bonding bill, let's do it right," Lanning said.
Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, and Lanning said the state has about $37 million of flood-prevention measures ready to be constructed almost immediately, funded by the state selling bonds.
Langseth, chairman of the Senate version of Hausman's committee, said state officials have increased the number of anti-flood projects ready to be built in the weeks since senators passed his bill. "My bottom line is $26 million."
Hausman said that after the bonding bill debate, she is confident the House, Senate and Gov. Tim Pawlenty will agree on a flood-prevention effort.
Langseth said he plans to request a meeting with Pawlenty on the subject this week. And, Lanning said, "we have the governor's attention" after Pawlenty on Monday made his third trip to Moorhead in recent days.
Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, said Red River Valley communities will need the state's help with flood prevention projects.
"The state has to be ready to help with this recovery and the state also has to be ready to continue its commitment for flood mitigation for these communities in the area," Marquart said, "so that in the future as these rivers rise, residents do not have to worry about loss of property and they can have peace of mind."
Overall, the House's full bonding bill would spend $247 million, compared to $367 million in the Senate version.
Rep. Mary Murphy, DFL-Hermantown, told Hausman that she wants to make sure the bonding bill emphasizes projects that need state participation before federal money flows to Minnesota.
Murphy said that she expects that "projects that aren't in here, but do have federal money attached to them ... will be at the top of your priority list."
No local projects such as community centers are in the House bill. Much of the money goes to fixing up state college and university buildings, following the Senate bill in that respect.
While much of the emphasis on passing bonding bill has been on creating jobs, Hausman could not estimate how many jobs her measure would create.
Pawlenty has said he could sign a modest bonding bill, but wants it to emphasize state spending on projects mostly funded by federal funds.
Don Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.