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EDITORIAL: Disaster bill an appropriate investment

Cedar Rapids Gazette Editorial Board –

One of several major issues remaining on the Iowa Legislature’s table this session is a proposal to help communities socked by major weather disasters mitigate the damage and help them prevent such destruction from future disasters. Senate File 2217 drew 50-0 support in the Senate, and a House committee recently approved it for full House debate.

It’s legislation that first surfaced last year after Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett’s efforts to secure state assistance toward our city leaders’ preferred plan for building flood protection. The goal here is to prevent another multi-billion-dollar blow such as the one inflicted by the historic 2008 flood.

SF 2217 is a cost-share proposal that could make a long-term difference in how this state not only rebuilds but better prepares to protect against future disasters that are sure to come. And although there are legitimate questions about its impact on other major priorities, the essence of this bill is appropriate.

This legislation would allow qualifying communities to keep a portion of future sales tax revenue growth for flood walls and other flood mitigation projects. It would be capped at $30 million a year for 10 years, with no one community to get more than $15 million a year.

This is especially important not only to Cedar Rapids and other Eastern Iowa communities hit hard by disasters in recent years but to western Iowa, which incurred much damage from Missouri River flooding last year.

If this legislation is approved and signed by the governor, Cedar Rapids may well not be the first community to become eligible for this plan. One of the conditions is that the city would have to come up with a local match as well as federal funds.

And how Cedar Rapids would provide its share is a big question after voters twice rejected in less than a year different proposals to extend the local-option sales tax to help build flood protection on both sides of the river.

Meanwhile, some legislators in the House are rightly scrutinizing the bill’s potential effects on other high priorities, such as education and the costs of mental health system reform. We agree that the flood legislation shouldn’t rob from these or other vital state services.

Nonetheless, the state’s revenue picture is improving and our overall financial situation is better than most other states. Carving $30 million from a $6 billion-plus budget is relatively modest and should be doable when you’re talking about protecting investments and infrastructure around the state worth many times the price of this legislation.

This bill is not about catering to any one community. Instead, it’s aimed at delivering critical assistance where it’s needed anywhere in the state, and that’s a good thing to do.

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