Iowa Governor Chet Culver says he will unveil a new flood relief package during his annual Condition of the State speech next week, but Culver is keeping the details under wraps. The D.O.T. says it is now facing a $267 million shortfall in highway funding, and Culver says that’s part of the issue.
Culver says, "You know I wasn’t surprised, obviously we have significant infrastructure needs whether or not they’re related to the natural disasters this past year or not um…I’m concerned about that report and I definitely think it’ll be a hot topic of discussion this session." Culver has opposed raising the state’s gas tax to cover the shortfall in road funding, but says he’s willing to listen to any ideas lawmakers offer.
The state has allocated more than 70-million dollars for housing and small business assistance so far. Culver says the state should be able to couple additional state funding with an anticipated federal infrastructure stimulus package. "We do have revenue in our economic emergency fund; you could argue this is the time to tap some of that for rebuilding Iowa for infrastructure," Culver says, "but before I roll out any concrete proposals I want to finish conversations with legislators."
Leaders of both political parties say they’re ready to tap into the state’s economic emergency account to help last year’s flood victims — but some Republicans are saying the move could come too late for those hit the hardest. Democrats are in the majority and control the issues that are discussed in the legislature. House Republican leader Linda Upmeyer from Garner says they are ready to address the issue first thing.
"We certainly hope that we deal with the disaster first. We believe that’s the very first thing out of the shoot that should be dealt with. We’ve got Iowans that don’t have homes — we need to deal with that and address it immediately," Upmeyer says. Upmeyer says the governor should have called a special session of the Legislature as strict rules hampered the Department of Economic Development’s ability to give out the money.
Upmeyer says, "I think if we had perhaps done that legislatively initially they could have moved more quickly and that would have been a good opportunity to keep some of the jobs in Iowa that have left because of the flood and that we just couldn’t make things move fast enough."
Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs was not in favor of a special session on the issue, but agrees they need to address it in the regular session. "I would hate to go back to Cedar Rapids in three years and have it look the ninth ward of New Orleans looks three years after their flooding and I drove through the ninth ward last summer and we need to do a better job," Gronstal says. Gronstal says the state did a fantastic job of responding to the disaster at the time.
Gronstal says: "Forty-five minutes after the tornado hit Onawa, Iowa National Guard with equipment was out there clearing the roads- 45 minutes after the tornado hit. That’s a incredible response by state government and state and local government working together so we did disaster response better than any state in the Union." Gronstal says he opposed calling a special session of the legislature because he feared spending state resources early would limit Iowa’s share of federal relief.