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Minnesota flood package draws big support

ST. PAUL - Northwestern Minnesota lawmakers say a $67 million flood mitigation and relief package should pass this year, and there appears to be broad support for the plan.

Lawmakers propose spending $50 million in state-borrowed funds to provide grants to communities that have experienced or are at risk of seasonal flooding.

Most are in northwestern Minnesota's Red River Valley, site of major flooding in March, but Granite Falls and Stillwater also could seek funding.

Another $17 million in flood relief is targeted to cities and counties identified in presidential disaster declarations stemming from the March flooding. That proposal includes $500,000 for the Red River Basin Commission to develop a plan to address flooding in the Red River watershed.

"We've got to have a long-term solution," Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, told lawmakers.

The flood proposal is a major piece of a public works package legislators are negotiating. The House-Senate conference committee has a deadline of midnight tonight to reach a deal.

Keith Langseth, a Glyndon Democrat and the Senate's public works committee chairman, said Gov. Tim Pawlenty supports the flood package. Flood-relief spending proposals were increased after this spring's Red River Valley flooding.

Cities that get state flood aid should be willing to chip in some local funds, said Rep. Bernie Lieder, DFL-Crookston.

Red River Valley lawmakers are also pushing for legislation that would provide tax breaks for new residential construction in four northwestern Minnesota communities: Moorhead, East Grand Forks, Breckenridge and Dilworth.

Under the plan, the first $150,000 of a new home would be exempt from property taxes for two years. New apartment buildings also could see a property tax exemption.

Rep. Paul Marquart, the House property tax committee chairman, said the proposal is meant to make Minnesota border cities competitive with North Dakota. Lawmakers there passed property tax legislation that puts the Minnesota cities at a greater disadvantage, he said.

"The idea is to take an aggressive approach towards marketing housing so that we can stay in the game with North Dakota," said Marquart, DFL-Dilworth.

The proposal also could improve consumer confidence because some people are hesitant to build in those cities, he said.