Gov. Dayton and the Legislature quickly and resoundingly approved a $167.5 million flood-relief package for Duluth and other areas hit by flash floods and windstorms earlier this year.
Gov. Mark Dayton and the Minnesota Legislature approved a $167.5 million relief package Friday to help Duluth and other hard-hit areas recover from the destruction of summertime floods and windstorms.
Getting in and out of special session in two hours, with minimal debate and emotional shows of bipartisan support, the House approved the package 125-3 and the Senate approved it 60-7. Dayton signed the bill into law a few hours later.
It was quite a feat for a DFL governor and Republican-controlled Legislature who have agreed on little since they took charge in January 2011.
"When things like this happen, Minnesota comes together," said Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester.
A June deluge that crippled Duluth and washed out widely scattered areas of northeastern Minnesota, followed by July windstorms that ripped down trees in northern forests, were the meteorological blows that brought the two sides together. No one died in the storms, but damage was significant.
Duluth Mayor Don Ness said he went to sleep the night of the rainstorm and "woke up the next morning to see the city I love torn to pieces."
He told a legislative committee about a Duluth homeowner who has struggled since the economic recession and was just getting back on her feet when the storm hit. A creek overflowed and her basement was flooded, wrecking her furnace, water heater and electrical wiring.
She called City Hall in tears, Ness said, wondering how she could afford a new furnace before winter. "The bill that's before you gives her hope," Ness said.
The measure includes $79 million to fix roads and bridges, many of which remain impassible in the city, Duluth officials said; $15 million to help businesses repair buildings and equipment; $12.2 million to help homeowners make repairs; nearly $19 million to fix park facilities and purchase or relocate severely damaged structures; $11 million to control erosion and sedimentation, and $7.9 million to counties affected by early July windstorms.
The state will pay for the costs by pulling money out of cash reserves, which have been refilled over the past year as tax collections have outpaced projections. Dayton said this week he believes the reserves remain sufficient in the event the economy languishes and tax revenue lags.
The DFL governor called the session after weeks of negotiations with the Republican-controlled Legislature to agree on specifics of the package. Both sides expressed a need to pass it quickly. As specified in their agreement, no other issues came up.
On the House floor, Rep. Mark Buesgens, R-Jordan, railed about the ironclad agreement that prevented legislators from amending the bill.
"We hear words like compassion, sympathy, empathy," he said. "My friends, it's compassion when you take out your own wallet, and give up your own blood, sweat, tears and resources. It's not compassion when we take it out of other people's wallets."
House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said at times like this, "the last thing you want is a bunch of politicians bickering in the Capitol."
In signing the bills, Dayton commended legislators for their work. "This help to Minnesotans, who have suffered terrible misfortunes, is a shining example of the spirit which makes our state so very special," he said in a statement.
There were a few signs, however, that the political pulse was still beating in this election season.
As the session ended, Zellers renewed his call that Rep. Kerry Gauthier, DFL-Duluth, resign immediately. Gauthier was investigated but not charged last week for having oral sex with a 17-year-old boy outside a public rest stop. Under pressure from both parties, Gauthier announced this week that he will not seek re-election in November and stayed away from the session.
Rep. Steve Smith, R-Mound, the chamber's longest-serving Republican, defeated by a Tea Party Republican in a primary earlier this month, gave a farewell speech in which he criticized his own party and its inability to work with a DFL governor. "If you want Minnesota to succeed," he said, "you cannot hope that our governor will fail."
The Senate took a brief recess to deal with mounting legal bills from the lawsuit filed by former GOP caucus staffer Michael Brodkorb, dismissed after having an affair with the former caucus leader, Sen. Amy Koch, R-Buffalo. The Senate Rules Committee voted 7-4 to pay the bills, over the objections of DFLers, who urged the GOP to set up a private defense fund to pay the fees. The total is now nearly $103,000, all paid by taxpayers.
Staff writer Jennifer Brooks contributed to this report.
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