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Special session short and productive?

The proposed state flood relief package totals about $150 million:

• $34 million in cash

• $60 million in general obligation bonds

• $26 million in trunk highway bonding

• $32 million redirected from state agencies last week

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Governor hopes to finalize flood relief within a day, but it’s not a sure bet

By Matthew Stolle

mstolle@postbulletin.com

ST. PAUL — If Gov. Tim Pawlenty has his way, tonight’s special session focused on providing a $150 million in flood relief to southeastern Minnesota will be short and snappy — a single day and no more.

But already rumblings of discontent are being heard among area DFL legislators. In particular, they oppose what they view as the package’s heavy reliance on bonding, or borrowing money. They say a faster and more direct way to deliver flood relief to homeowners and businesses is by tapping the state’s cash reserves.

"We all pushed for a special session without any strings attached, and these are big strings," said Rep. Ken Tschumper, a La Crescent Democrat whose district encompasses several of the communities hit by last month’s deadly flooding.

Whether those concerns delay passage of flood-relief legislation won’t be known until later today; the session begins at 5 p.m. DFL Assistant Majority Leader Sen. Tarryl Clark said she doubted that the deal agreed to by the Republican governor and DFL legislative leaders would be substantially changed.

Area legislators and civic leaders greeted Pawlenty’s decision to call a special session with a sense of relief.

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"It’s about time," said Stockton Mayor Jack Roberts, whose city is still feeding as many as 100 displaced residents and cleanup volunteers twice a day.

Roberts said Pawlenty’s announcement of $32 million in flood aid last week helped.

"But I still think people were sitting there saying, ‘How come it took so long to get the special session?’" he said.

But Pawlenty called today’s special session the "fastest" in recent history. He noted that previous governors have waited as much as three months after a flood hit to call a special session. This one will happen three weeks after the flooding of Aug. 18 and 19.

Pawlenty and DFL legislators had discussed broadening the agenda to include transportation because of the Interstate 35W bridge collapse. But those talks foundered, and both sides agreed to set aside that and other issues for now in the interest of moving forward with flood relief legislation.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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