The Iowa Senate has sent Gov. Chet Culver a $56 million flood recovery package.
Backers said the measure marked the first of a series of measures lawmakers will approve to respond to last summer’s natural disasters.
The Senate rejected a series of efforts by minority Republicans to tighten eligibility standards and toughen reporting requirements to better keep tab on how the money is spent.
Democrats said the programs financed by the measure will be run by a series of state agencies, all of which have procedures to guarantee the protection of tax dollars.
They said it’s essential that money begin flowing to flood victims quickly.
“There are many people who are financially destitute,” said Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, a main backer of the measure. “You have to understand what is happening in the neighborhoods of Cedar Rapids. These were not wealthy neighborhoods.”
Republicans said more needed to be done to protect taxpayers, but ultimately voted for the package.
“It would be irresponsible of us not to bring accountability to this system,” said Sen. Shawn Hamerlinck, R-Davenport. “No legislator here should ever fear accountability.”
The Senate approved the funding on a 49-0 vote, sending it to Culver’s desk. The governor sought a smaller, $43 million package but negotiated the final measure with lawmakers and is certain to sign it into law. The House approved the measure the day before.
Under the measure, $24 million would go to housing assistance programs, while $22 million would go to grants for flood-stricken communities. Another $10 million would go for assistance to individuals for items like mental health counseling and other flood-related needs.
“We believe it’s a reasonable amount,” said Hogg.
Sen. Brad Zahn, R-Urbandale, sought to set aside a portion of the money specifically for businesses.
“I think we need to send a signal to the business community that we do care about them,” said Zahn.
Hogg argued that businesses are eligible for money under the community grant section of the measure and said that virtually every change the Republicans were seeking added bureaucratic red tape to communities and residents already hammered.
“I don’t think we need to be punitive to our cities and counties that are dealing with disasters,” Hogg said. “This would create red tape and punitive bureaucratic government.”
After last summer’s flooding, Culver created a new agency — the Rebuild Iowa Office — to oversee flood recovery, and the measure approved Wednesday authorizes that agency. Republicans complained that mad the measure an expansion of the bureaucracy. Democrats said there’s no money for that office included in the measure, with all of the money going to flood victims.
The money for the $56 million package will come from the state’s economic emergency fund, a $155 million fund that’s designed to tide the state over during tough economic times and for cleanup after natural disasters.
Backers said the state has been rocked with both, with record flooding last summer and a deepening recession this winter.
Lawmakers were expected to send Culver their second response to the flood on Thursday. The House was scheduled to approve a measure speeding the ability of local governments to put in place a local option sales tax for flood recovery, a measure pushed by officials in Cedar Rapids.
Because of the deadlines in state law governing local option tax elections, Cedar Rapids wouldn’t be able to get the tax in place until January, and the measure scheduled for approval on Thursday would speed that implementation until April. That means an additional $15 million for the city, backers say.
Culver has not taken a formal position on that issue.
Backers conceded the larger effort to respond to last summer’s flood is yet to come.
Culver has asked lawmakers to borrow $700 million for flood relief and to repair the state’s crumbling infrastructure.
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