What is a disaster? Discuss.
Posted at 9:33 AM on May 4, 2007 by Bob Collins (8 Comments)
Apparently the Senate and House snuck in an emergency session when I wasn't looking yesterday to take up the "Browns Valley Flood Relief" bill that caused so much angst yesterday in the House Finance Committee when both parties launched a "you're playing politics.... no, you're playing politics" barrage of an odd nature that actually seemed to suggest that they believe the great unwashed (that's us) aren't smart enough to recognize that it's all politics all the time at the Capitol. This is politics. Unless they mean... you know... that kind of politics.
Anyway, I'm watching a tape of the House session and here's a memo to myself -- ask the editors at MPR to do a story on what's in "disaster" bills.
Yesterday we found out that an anti-noise wall (that didn't exist before the tornado) in Rogers was an "emergency."
This morning I see that a new "fish cleaning house" in Warroad (hey, check this non-sequitur out "Warroad for new public facilities to replace those damaged or destroyed by the August 006 tornado, including approximately 28 new street lights and underground electrical circuits a new fish cleaning house.) is in the disaster bill.
Is it really a disaster if people have to go to the backyard deck to clean scales?
I get the whole "drinking water, collapsed roads, fire department coverage, downed power lines, smashed schools" stuff. That's easy. But what's the theory behind taxpayers paying for a new fish cleaning house? Especially since the bill comes from Republicans -- among others -- who have lectured us all session long about spending? But I don't know who slipped the fish house into the picture.
This is what we call 'disaster containment.' Anyone who's cleaned fish on the backyard picnic table or deck knows what a horrid mess ensues. And if mom sees the mess, we're talking about a potentially life-threatening disaster. What the astute politicians of Warroad have done is contained the problem to one public facility, rather than spreading the disaster region-wide. Really, they're brilliant, and should be given credit for such.
Posted by bsimon | May 4, 2007 10:09 AM
bsimon - Great way of putting it.
Well, let me get this one off my chest... I'm against disasters. Always have, and always will be.
Ariel photo of the damage.
Here's what I don't get. Isn't there INSURANCE for this stuff? Why does a taxpayer have to pay for a new fish cleaning house? Also, I don't see ANY streetlights down in that picture. Yet, Warroad is getting money to put up 28?
Anyway, on the insurance thing, wouldn't it be ironic that on the day the Senate and House decided NOT to give state residents the ability to sue insurers when they low-ball damage claims, that they went high-ball on "disaster relief?"
Seriously, how is a destroyed fish cleaning house a disaster? Or a pool changing room?
I recognize why everyone refers to these bills as "disaster relief." It makes it sound like people are rushing in with financial aid to the downtrodden and desperate -- something that no reasonable person would object to. And indeed there are some people getting some needed relief in the bill. But noise barriers, street lights, and fish cleaning houses?
Obviously, even the "tax and spend" critics have their price.
Posted by Bob Collins | May 4, 2007 3:26 PM
The impact of "disasters" put upon Rogers and Browns Valley, and their comparative ability to recover, may best be understood by comparing the two cities.
Median Income--Browns Valley-$28,600 Rogers-$79,200
Median Home Value--Browns Valley-$25,900 Rogers-$319,500
Median Real Estate Taxes--B. Valley-$392 Rogers-$1977
New Homes built 1996-2006--B. Valley-13 Rogers-1828
Pop. Change Since 1996--B. Valley-minus 14% Rogers+396%
As one can obviously see, the demographics and growth of the two communities are markedly different. Browns Valley has an elderly population with negative growth and a very small tax base. The contrast between the two cities is dramatic.
Posted by mike simpkins | May 4, 2007 5:55 PM
Don't misunderstand what I'm saying, Mike. I'm not saying there aren't good reasons for giving a pot of money to any community to help them recover from a "disaster."
I guess if there is real suffering going on up there -- and out there -- (and I have no reason to doubt that there is).... why not dedicate the money that's going to building a noise wall and a fish house exclusively to that suffering?
I'm sorry I-94 is noisy for the folks in Rogers...or that a fish house or a pool changing building got flattened. (By the way, if there really IS real suffering in a community, I would hope the state's response would not be contingent on how much the median income in a town is. Suffering is suffering.)
I'm guessing that's not the worst that happened in those towns.
I'm also wondering if any of the victims had a hard time collecting from their insurance companies (see previous note).
When you see disaster funds going for noise walls and fish houses, one gets the distinct impression that it was milking time at the Capitol.
But I've never seen a legislator start crying over not getting a noise wall funded. That was a first.
Posted by Bob Collins | May 4, 2007 6:08 PM
We're actually pretty much on the same page, Bob. However, the inherent ability of a city to recover on their own should be part of the equation as far as state funding. Let's assume that ALL the folks in Rogers and Browns Valley collected from insurance for the full value of their homes. With roughly $26,000 in hand the folks in Browns Valley could hardly afford to replace their garage, much less their home. Their only real option would be to rent or move. With over $300,000 in hand the folks in Rogers would actually have the potential to rebuild. Also the city of Rogers would have the ability to use their rapidly expanding tax base to help their citizens if they chose to. The very limited tax base in Browns Valley gives the local politicos few options to help out. Although the street lights and fish cleaning house enumerated in Rep. Olins(Warroads) request raised my eyebrows a bit, at least the city had done some due diligence to actually enumerate what the damages to the city were. And yes, Rep. Peppins theatrics in committee were also a first for me. In fairness however, I think that a number of legislators are becoming a bit frayed around the edges.
Posted by mike simpkins | May 4, 2007 6:58 PM