Dayton: Any Disaster Relief Better Than Nothing

Dayton puts on microphone at Farmfest

Republicans were surprised Tuesday when they learned how much Gov. Mark Dayton wants for disaster relief, but the Democratic governor said on Tuesday that even the GOP’s lower figure is better than nothing.

The Dayton administration suggested spending $190 million to pay local and state government costs related to June floods and other storm damage in counties across the state. Republican legislative financial leaders said they had expected to see a $27 million package and expressed “sticker shock” with Dayton’s plan.

“I didn’t make this number up,” Dayton said after giving a speech at Farmfest, an annual gathering of farmers near Redwood Falls.

He said that he wants the higher figure, but would negotiate with Republicans because “something is better than nothing.”

Dayton’s proposal came at a Tuesday meeting of a legislative working group that is to assemble a bill to fund disaster relief.

Typically, the state pays local and state government costs not covered by the federal government. Federal payments take care of 75 percent of the costs.

So far, damage to public infrastructure tops $100 million, leading to Republicans expecting the $27 million figure.

The federal government rejected Minnesota’s claim for aid for individuals, and some lawmakers want to consider helping people and businesses affected by storms, both in June and early July.

“If you can’t depend on government to help during a disaster, when can we?” asked Rep. Kerry Gauthier, DFL-Duluth.

Most of the flooding occurred in northeastern Minnesota, but storms affected 15 counties in several parts of the state in June. Other counties were hit by wind storms in early July.

The legislative group headed by Rep. Mary Liz Holberg, R-Lakeville, and Sen. Claire Robling, R-Jordan, met for the first time Tuesday, hearing reports on how the state generally reacts to disasters. No decisions were made and no new meeting date was set.

Dayton and legislative leaders tentatively plan a special legislative session for Aug. 24. They have said a session will not be held until they agree on the relief bill and that the session will be focused on disasters.

Among requests in Dayton’s proposal:

— $82 million for transportation road and bridge repair.

— $22 million for the Department of Natural Resources.

— $20 million for employment and economic development.

— $13 million for housing finance to help owners of 1,700 damaged homes.

— $26 million to fund what the federal government did not.

— $17 million for water and soil resources.

Mike Cook of the House Public Information Office contributed to this story.