Iowa Governor Threatens Special Session Unless $85 Million Released

September 8, 2008

Iowa Gov. Chet Culver on on September 5 demanded that federal officials release $85 million in disaster assistance within the next 10 days, or he’ll summon the Legislature back into a special session to find money to help victims of this year’s record flooding.

“The message today is the clock is ticking,” Culver said. “If they continue to drag their feet, we’ll bring everybody back to Des Moines.”

Culver said he’s willing to consider scrapping plans for a new state prison and new state office building as potential sources of money for flood relief if the federal government doesn’t release the money.

Culver said he’ll press the case on today, September 8, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi when she visits Iowa, and said there’s growing frustration with bureaucratic delays.

“We need to get a decision,” Culver said. “It’s one bureaucratic hurdle after another. If they’re not going to do their job, we’ll have a special session.”

Culver focused on an $85 million chunk of federal money aimed at repairing homes damaged during this year’s flooding.

“We’ve heard a lot of talk out of Washington,” Culver said. “We need some action. What are they waiting for?”

The governor said he’s identified roughly $73 million that’s already been approved by the Legislature for other projects that could be redirected for floor relief, but shifting the money would require lawmakers’ approval.

Legislative leaders of both parties have said they’re willing to return for a special session to consider disaster relief efforts, and Culver said he will make a decision by Sept. 15. He said state officials have already put together a plan for spending the $85 million, but must wait for the federal government to release the money.

“Let’s cut the red tape so we can get Iowa moving again,” Culver said.

House Republicans gathered in Cedar Rapids for a tour of the most severe flood damage in the state.

“We think a special session should be held and should be held now,” said House Republican Leader Christopher Rants, R-Sioux City.

This summer’s flooding has proven to be one of the most expensive natural disasters in the state’s history, with more than $512 million already approved for residents and governments in the state. Culver has identified more than $800 million in damages that are eligible for assistance, and called for the federal government to pick up 90 percent of the costs.

Culver said he was also frustrated because he hasn’t yet gotten a decision on whether the 90 percent cost sharing would be approved.

The $85 million in housing assistance would come from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and Culver said bureaucratic delays at that agency are slowing the process.

“There’s clearly much more work that needs to be done,” the governor said. “Iowans deserve no less than immediate action. It’s time to get this done without further delays.”

Some lawmakers have suggested delaying the new prison that’s been approved to replace the Iowa State Penitentiary at Fort Madison. Culver said he’s willing to consider that step, but it’s unclear how he would get the money because the financing plan approved by lawmakers called for the state to borrow the money for the prison.

While lawmakers have also approved construction of a new state office building, that plan is a long-term effort with little of the money to be spent in the current budget year.

Culver said he was confident that financing details could be hammered out should lawmakers be called back into session.

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