Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Nerdy details on how the Northwoods can be helped by state, federal gov't

In the wake of the awful floods that continue to wrack Northwestern Wisconsin, and the continued road closings and washouts, I wanted to see how the process works when it comes to the state helping to pay for the repairs associated with these disasters. In addition, I wanted to find out which funds are set aside in case of such emergencies, and what I’m finding is that without federal assistance, this deadly last week of weather is going to lead to even more budget pressure.

First of all, we need to understand that this is historic flooding, with many homes and businesses uninhabitable, along with the damage to infrastructure. Take it from someone who’s been up there for decades.
In his 32 years in the Wisconsin state Legislature, former Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, has seen many disasters, but never one with as much water damage spread across a region, he said. Jauch traveled through the area over the weekend.

"Almost every town road, county road and state highway is closed, washed out. The water has receded, but you can tell from the water marks on the trees just how high the Bad River got, and how difficult it was for families who were virtually isolated in this storm," Jauch said.

More than $30 million in damage has been reported, over $28.8 million from damage to public infrastructure, according to the Wisconsin Emergency Operations Center. …

The most critical step upon completion of the damage assessment is for Gov. Scott Walker to declare it a disaster area and submit an application for a FEMA declaration, Jauch said. Jauch expects that to happen sometime this week.

Walker has asked for a damage assessment by FEMA, scheduled to start July 25. The governor declared a state of emergency for eight northern Wisconsin counties last week.

Some federal money is already on its way to the state, as the Wisconsin DOT announced yesterday that the Federal Highway Administration has released $2.5 million in emergency funding after receiving a letter from WisDOT Secretary Mark Gottlieb. But that’ll just scrape the surface of the estimated $10 million in damage to state and federal highways due to the floods, and doesn’t touch the large amount of local roads and bridges that’ll need to be repaired and/or replaced.

With that in mind, I checked the state statutes on disaster damage aids for roads (section 86.34 if you’re interested) and found that local governments have 2 months to send in their request to WisDOT for help. That would mean the deadline is around Labor Day to get that request in, although that can be extended to wait for federal disaster aid, if need be.

From there, the Wisconsin DOT can give their assessment of how much they can/should give, and reimburse the local government accordingly.
(2)  The department shall make such investigation as it deems necessary and within 6 months from the date of filing the petition shall make its determination as to the granting of aid, the amount thereof, and the conditions under which it is granted. In making its determination the department shall cause an estimate to be made of the cost of repairing or replacing the facilities damaged or destroyed to standards and efficiency similar to those existing immediately before the damage or destruction, and also an estimate of the cost of reconstructing the facilities to a higher type or improving any such facilities if determined to be warranted and advisable. Except as provided in subs. (2m) and (6), the amount of aid payable for damage caused by a disaster described in sub. (1g) (b) 1. shall be 75 percent of the cost of repair or replacement to standards similar to those existing immediately before the damage or destruction, plus 50 percent of the increased cost of the reconstruction to a higher type or the improvement of any of the facilities. Except as provided in subs. (2m) and (6), the amount of aid payable for damage caused by a disaster described in sub. (1g) (b) 2. shall be 70 percent of the cost of repair or replacement to standards similar to those existing immediately before the damage or destruction. The department may revise estimates on the basis of additional facts. The county, town, village, or city shall pay the remainder of the cost not allowed as aid, but this shall not invalidate any other provision of the statutes whereby the cost may be shared by the county and the town, village, or city.
Here’s where the timing of this storm is bad for the local governments involved. These areas are starting their annual budget deliberations and completing them in November, while a 6 month delay from the state would mean any state funds wouldn’t come up North until after the start of the January 1 local fiscal year. Which makes me wonder if the timeline gets accelerated at both levels, and since the Governor’s Office and Wisconsin DOT can release the money without consultation from the Legislature (and no Governor’s election this November), let’s see how soon things get resolved from that side.

Even if the money gets out of Madison and DC fast, the floods and disappearing roads likely just changed a lot of priorities for the 2016 and 2017 budget, especially with the snow flying in 4 months in the Northland. And it’s not like the local governments in the 715 had a lot of funds lying around for roads to begin with, as state and local officials from Northwest Wisconsin were among the largest proponents of a local sales tax to fix roads, complaining that budget constraints from DC and Madison were not allowing for adequate repairs to be done. That effort was defeated by the WisGOP-controlled Legislature earlier this year, despite support from some GOP legislators from the northern half of the state.

A bigger complication is the state’s already-messed up budgets for both Transportation and the General Fund. Because as the rundown for state disaster aids shows, Governor Walker and the WisGOPs in the Legislature gambled that there wouldn’t be any large disasters for the 2015-17 budget period, and reduced the amount of General Fund dollars set aside to pay for such events.
Decrease funding by $9,000,000 in 2015-16 to reflect the removal of first year funding from the base for the disaster damage aids transfer appropriation and $2,500,000 in 2016-17 to reflect a decrease in the estimated amount needed to fund disaster claims. 2013 Wisconsin Act 20 [the 2013-15 budget] established a sum sufficient appropriation from the general fund to fund a transfer to the transportation fund in the second year of each biennium equal to the amount of disaster aid payments made in that biennium in excess of $1 million for any single disaster event. The transfer was estimated at $9,000,000 in 2014-15 under Act 20, although this amount has since been reestimated to $500,000 to reflect slower than expected reimbursement claims for damage related to a 2011 storm in northwest Wisconsin. This item would remove the first year funding from the base, and fund the estimated transfer at $6,500,000 in 2016-17 to reflect additional claims expected from that disaster.
Given that this is a sum-sufficient appropriation from the General Fund, the extra money can be spent out, but it also means that because money wasn’t budgeted, any overruns past the $4.9 million allowed for the 2015-17 budget makes the tight General Fund budget even tougher to handle.

There is a separate $1 million a year appropriation from the Transportation Fund designated for disasters (a designated sum-sufficient fund that started in 2013). But that’s obviously not going to be nearly enough to take care of the washed out roads and messed-up infrastructure up North, and that also will go over its budgeted amount. In fairness, it does seem like the Walker Administration is sensitive to the charges that they've stopped caring about the people in Wisconsin that pay their salary (especially when Walker's spent more time kissing up the GOP oligarchs and ripping on Hillary Clinton this week instead of doing the job he's paid to do). It was nice to see that late this afternoon, they sent out a long press release detailing the steps various state agencies are taking to help the Northland area get through these tough times. It includes tidbits like these.
The Department of Transportation (WisDOT) staff are inspecting and documenting the impacts and damages to existing infrastructure and looking into what types of funding may be available for repairs. WisDOT will utilize $2.5 million in federal funds requested to accelerate repairs to northern Wisconsin roadways damaged by flooding....

•Wisconsin Emergency Management (WEM) continues to work with local, tribal, and county officials assessing the damage and coordinating state resources. WEM is also working closely with FEMA and other federal agencies to provide situational awareness and review all possible disaster resources.

•The Department of Administration (DOA) made $3 million in funding available through Community Development Block Grant Emergency Assistance Program (CDBG-EAP). The funds may be used to assist eligible, low to moderate income homeowners for housing rehabilitation, business assistance, and repair local public infrastructure. Local communities should work with the Division of Energy, Housing, and Community Resources to apply. Please visit their website or call (608) 266-7531. The Department of Administration also notified local governments that they may use state contracts to purchase goods and services as they recover from flooding and storm damage. A complete list of contracts available to municipal governments can be found on the State’s procurement website, Vendor Net.
You know things are bad up North when this WisGOP crew is going out of its way to promote federal and state spending to help the recovery efforts. And even though they wouldn’t admit it in this week’s RNC Convention, I bet a whole lot of the WisGOPs speaking at it are pleading with the Obama Administration to take a lot of the burdens off of the good people near Lake Superior with FEMA aid. Fortunately, I have confidence that the Obama Administration isn’t so arrogant to screw over people in retribution for the middle fingers far so many WisGOPs have thrown his way over the last 5 ½ years (although let’s see what out-of-state Baggers in Congress do with the Federal Fiscal Year nearing its end).

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