Iowa Task Force Reviews Flood Aid; Special Legislative Session Considered

September 4, 2008

A task force created to assess damage from this year’s flooding and make recommendations for recovery released a report on Tuesday, September 2, that called for expanded housing programs for flood victims and financial assistance for businesses wanting to rebuild.

But the Rebuild Iowa Advisory Commission remained silent on whether the Legislature should convene for a special session to deal with the recovery.

In its report, the commission said a top priority should be finding housing “for all those who need to be relocated, temporarily or permanently, before cold weather arrives.”

It also calls for forgivable loans for businesses, waiving sales taxes on materials purchased for reconstruction and offering an investment tax credit for the costs of rebuilding.

The commission offered a sense of urgency for meeting the needs of those affected by the flooding.

“There can be a domino effect of continued economic disaster if Iowans fail to recognize and address critical issues,” the report said. “Time is a villain to the business community.”

The report did not offer a final figure on damages caused by flooding and tornadoes, but that number is expected to approach $10 billion.

Iowa Lt. Gov. Patty Judge heads the Rebuild Iowa Office, which was created to oversee flood recovery efforts. The commission is headed by Adjutant General Ron Dardis of the Iowa National Guard. They offered a preliminary report at a Statehouse news conference.

A key question is whether Gov. Chet Culver will call lawmakers into special session to deal with the flood recovery effort.

“We really are not in a place today to make a determination about a special session,” said Judge. “There are a lot of factors involved in this,”

A key issue is whether the federal government will pick up 90 percent of the recovery costs instead of the traditional 75 percent, and how much Congress will include in a disaster measure being crafted this month.

“A lot of the decisions about whether we go into special session depends on Congress,” Judge said. “There’s a lot of balls in the air.”

Dardis said Culver has flexibility to use a series of economic development and other funds without legislative approval, and that he will leave it to others to make that decision.

“We do not recommend a special session with this report,” Dardis said. “We are making no recommendation for a special session.”

In assessing the damages from the flooding, the report pointed to up to $3 billion in agricultural losses, along with $5.36 billion in damage to businesses, including physical damages and lost revenue. Nearly $300 million in damages was reported by schools, including $232 million at the University of Iowa. The report found nearly $1 billion in unmet housing needs, but Dardis said a final tab for the disaster is impossible to set because it changes almost daily.

“Iowa has suffered major damage and loss that is not yet completely quantified,” the report said. “It certainly is not a straightforward process to obtain data.”

Judge said Culver would review the report and likely make a decision on calling a special session by the end of September.

The report also called for new flood-plain maps of the state, saying current maps haven’t been updated for decades. The task force is scheduled to issue a report on long-term recommendations to protect against flooding in another two months.

For more information go to Rebuild Iowa Advisory Commission:

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