Lawmakers involved in crafting the flood-related proposals which were passed by the 2009 Iowa Legislature believe nearly half a billion dollars in state spending has been committed to flood recovery and projects to prevent future flooding.
Senator Rob Hogg, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids, unsuccessfully pushed for a special legislative session last fall to respond to the disaster, but he’s pleased with the work legislators produced over the past 15 weeks.
"I think we have laid the groundwork for a very strong recovery from the disasters of 2008," Hogg says. "And I also think we’ve done a lot to make sure that the type of damage that happened in 2008 never happens again in the state."
For one thing, legislators set aside over a million dollars to establish an Iowa Flood Center at the University of Iowa. Another proposal requires 87 communities that flooded last year and another 31 that are on or near a flood plain to develop a flood prevention plan. Senator Pam Jochum, a Democrat from Dubuque, says that’s a key hurdle that must be cleared before residents in those 118 communities can get National Flood Insurance.
"It’s very much future oriented, to try and prevent flooding in the future," Jochum says, "and just as importantly to try to make sure that taxpayers aren’t continually footing the bill for damages caused by floods."
But to respond to the 2008 flooding, the State of Iowa will be spending a good chunk of taxpayer dollars to, among other things, rebuild fire stations in Palo, Elkader and Charles City; repair a railroad bridge in Waterloo; and provide millions to private citizens for repairs to their flood-wrecked homes. Tax credits will be advanced to help spur construction of apartment buildings and help bankroll renovation of historic properties in flood-ravaged cities.
The first flood-related bill to clear the 2009 legislature set aside $56 million for the state’s JumpStart program which provides grants to homeowners and businesses hit by flooding. House Republican Leader Kraig Paulsen of Hiawatha calls that the high-water mark of the year.
"While we started off extremely well in a bipartisan manner working on the disaster relief bill, some of that kind of fizzled and I’m not so sure we couldn’t have done more for those thousands of Iowans who still can’t sleep in their own bed at night," Paulsen says.
Paulsen and other Republicans have expressed concern about borrowing for disaster-related spending. Senator Steve Kettering, a Republican from Lake View, is a banker.
"Throughout the session, we have offered pay-as-you-go methods to handling the budget process, especially in light of the amount of federal money that’s coming down to Iowa," Kettering says.
But Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs argues record flooding left the state no choice but to borrow money.
"We’re not going to do what Louisiana did and leave New Orleans in swamps. We’re not going to do that," Gronstal said this weekend during an impassioned speech on the senate floor. "We’re going to make sure we recover from last summer’s disasters, help our communities fix themselves up, pull themselves up and build a new future."
Check out The Blog for more details on the flood-related spending approved by the 2009 Iowa Legislature.