A week of storms in June that tore through a broad swath of central and southern Minnesota could trigger a disaster relief special legislative session, a spokesman for Gov. Mark Dayton said Thursday.
Bob Hume, that governor’s deputy chief of staff, said the governor’s office is looking for a way to come up with a $4.5 million state contribution. A federal disaster declaration issued by President Obama for 18 Minnesota counties, including Hennepin, allows federal assistance for eligible projects, with the state contributing one-fourth of the total cost.
“The governor’s office is having discussions with four legislative leaders around a bipartisan agreement for a special session to pay for the state’s share of disaster relief aid,” Hume said.
The storms began with 5.6 inches of rain in Stevens County on June 20 and ended with an 8.25-inch deluge in Wilkin County June 26, according to the state Department of Public Safety. During that time, parts of Minnesota saw record 48-hour rainfall amounts, flash flooding and mudslides. Thousands of trees were uprooted and the weather caused the largest power outage in Minnesota history — 600,000 buildings without electricity, the department said.
The state estimated damage to public infrastructure at $17.8 million, with roads and bridges making up half of the total.
Last year, after devastating storms and floods in Duluth and other parts of northeast Minnesota, the governor’s office and legislative leaders put together a working group to decide on a disaster relief amount and held a one-day special session to approve the package on Aug. 24.
Hume suggested that this year’s process could be similar.
Michael Howard, a spokesman for House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said the talks are at an early stage.
“We are still gathering information to identify the need for and scope of immediate state relief,” he said. “If we need to act, we will be working with the governor’s office and legislative leaders to secure broad bipartisan support for a one-day special session focused solely on disaster relief, as we have in years past.”
Susan Closmore, a spokeswoman for the House Republican caucus, said “the governor’s office has indicated its desire for a special session but there have been no further discussions.”
The Legislature adjourned on May 20 and is not scheduled back until Feb. 25, 2014. Only the governor can call a special session, and Hume said Dayton will only do so with an understanding that the agenda is limited. Republicans have already asked for a special session to repeal a tax on warehouse services, which Dayton rejected, and on Thursday, Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, suggested that a minimum wage hike could also be on the table.
But Hume sought to put strict limits on any special session agenda.
“There is not going to be any tolerance for political grandstanding on either side of the aisle, when what is at stake is getting disaster relief to people who need it,” he said.
Staff Writer Jennifer Brooks contributed to this report.