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Red River Valley flooding: Lawmakers not happy with public works spending

ST. PAUL - Flood-weary Red River Valley residents should not be forced to worry about future flood-prevention funding, northwestern Minnesota representatives said Monday as they tried in vain to increase spending on permanent new dikes and other such measures.

The Minnesota House approved a public works funding bill with $12.7 million for flood-prevention measures, less than half of that in a Senate-passed measure.

Reps. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, and Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, led the unsuccessful fight to increase flood spending. Marquart said the money is important "so people can have peace of mind and not have to worry about damage and loss."

Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, said that another bill probably will come up later this legislative session providing flood-relief money. She said that the legislation also could include money to build permanent flood-prevention structures.

"We know it is too early to know the real need," she said.

Lanning was not convinced: "That is going to take a long time to come together before we have agreement among all of the parties."

"Why wait?" Lanning asked. "The need is great."

Representatives defeated an amendment that would have moved money from college and university repairs to flood prevention. While Lanning said he thinks the schools need funds, too, flood victims need to know the state is working to prevent future floods.

The overall bill passed 93-40. The House and Senate must negotiate a compromise.

The bill could borrow $247 million by the state selling bonds. A Senate bill would spend $367 million, while Gov. Tim Pawlenty prefers spending less than the House.

Hausman, chairwoman of the committee drawing up the bill, said the overall proposal should produce nearly 86,000 jobs. They would work on projects such as making college repairs and constructing new state buildings.

House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, said that the bill is too rich, given the state budget deficit.

"We are over $6 billion in the hole and what is the answer from the majority? Let's borrow money we don't have for projects we don't need," Seifert said.

But House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, said the bill will do its main job - create jobs.


Don Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.