GOP senators object to Walz’s plan to use disaster relief fund for riot damage

The federal government has twice denied Gov. Walz’s request for federal disaster assistance for rebuilding efforts. 

Flickr/Fibonacci Blue

Several Republican lawmakers are pushing back after Gov. Tim Walz said he plans to use the state’s disaster relief fund to help rebuild some public infrastructure damaged in May’s riots.

According to a press release from the governor’s office, the State Disaster Assistance Contingency Account will cover 75 percent, or $11.7 million, of a $15 million sum of eligible “fire-related damages” identified by the Department of Public Safety.

The total estimated damage exceeds $500 million, making the Minneapolis riots the second-most destructive period of unrest in U.S. history.

“Minnesotans work together to get through hard times, ” Walz said in a statement. “After that devastating week at the end of May, Minnesotans from across the state generously contributed and worked together with the people of Minneapolis to rebuild their city. This funding from the State joins that effort to rebuild and will help provide critical resources to the community.”

Walz’s office said Minnesota law defines “disaster” as any “catastrophe, including but not limited to a tornado, storm, high water, wind-driven water, tidal wave, earthquake, volcanic eruption, landslide, mudslide, snowstorm, or drought or, regardless of cause, any fire, flood, or explosion.”

Some Senate Republicans, however, think the governor’s use of the disaster relief fund is inappropriate in this case.

“The state’s disaster recovery account is meant to help our neighbors rebuild when their communities are destroyed by unforeseen natural disasters, like flooding, tornadoes, or straight-line winds,” said Sen. John Jasinski, R-Faribault. “Under no circumstances should it be used when elected leaders fail to take the necessary steps to protect their communities from completely preventable violence.”

Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, said it “does not make fiscal sense” to draw from the disaster relief fund when the state is facing a $4.7 billion budget deficit.

“Using statewide taxpayer dollars for a local event that was completely preventable is an unconscionable ask of Minnesotans. It was up to Gov. Walz and Mayor Frey to protect the city of Minneapolis and they failed,” said Rosen.

“The disaster relief fund is for unexpected and uncontrollable circumstances, not riots and civil unrest. Walz is asking every Minnesotan who watched in horror as the city burned for three nights to pony up more of their tax dollars to bail out Minneapolis,” she added.

The federal government has twice denied Gov. Walz’s request for federal disaster assistance.

“This action jeopardizes our ability to help communities that are impacted by real natural disasters, not to mention puts additional pressure on our already significant budget deficit,” added Sen. Bruce Anderson, R-Buffalo.

Walz authorized the state assistance for Hennepin County on Friday.