Based on our experience, we think Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds is smart to insist the Legislature take action now on state help for waterlogged western Iowa and other areas hit by major flooding. With lawmakers already in Des Moines for the final weeks of the 2019 session, there’s no reason to wait.
“We’ll sit down with legislators this week and talk about what we think the need is for 2019 and fiscal year 2020 as well,” Rey-nolds said earlier this week. “We’re going to act while (legislators) are here.”
There’s been some uncertainty over how soon the Legislature would get involved. House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, recently pointed to the state’s response to flooding in June 2008, when the Legislature didn’t tackle recovery needs until the following January.
Upmeyer and other current legislative leaders may not recall the fallout in 2008 when then-Gov. Chet Culver decided, with support from legislative leaders, to not call a special legislative session to deal with the massive disaster in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City and elsewhere. For Eastern Iowans, it was a maddening and demoralizing moment, compounded by a slow congressional response.
Culver and the Legislature eventually did provide much needed dollars through I-JOBS and other programs. Those efforts led to a stronger recovery.
Now Reynolds and Republicans who control the Legislature face epic flooding in 2019, while a relief package remains stuck in Congress amid a political fight over aid for hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico. It’s likely the state will need to step up, and soon.
Some needs are known now, and the Legislature and governor can provide that assistance. But as the true scope of flood damage becomes apparent in the weeks and months ahead, and as the threat of more flooding looms, the Legislature should consider giving the governor some limited authority to spend state dollars, perhaps from emergency reserve funds, on response and recovery in the months after legislators adjourn.
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Such a mechanism would allow the Reynolds administration to quickly respond to pressing needs that are unforeseen now. Based on our experience, there will be many. And the last thing stressed and exhausted flood-affected Iowans need is a long wait for help. Our leaders in Des Moines and Washington, D.C., should work to make sure that doesn’t happen — again.
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