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Chief political reporter David Postman explores state, regional and national politics.

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March 13, 2008 11:47 AM

GOP lawmakers, but not Rossi, praise gov's flood work

Posted by David Postman

Cooperation between Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire and Republican lawmakers from flood-ravaged Lewis County may be robbing Dino Rossi of a prime campaign issue.

Rossi has been critical of Gregoire’s plans for flood relief and prevention projects. Much of what he’s said has come during visits to Centralia, Chehalis and the surrounding areas. But as Rossi told me yesterday, he doesn’t like what he believes is Gregoire’s top-down approach to flood relief.

Are we putting together a bureaucratic model you can tout to people and get a headline from, or are we going to actually listen to the people on the ground who live it everyday?

But Republican lawmakers who live it everyday are celebrating today the passage of several pieces of flood relief legislation, including a $50 million bond authorization to build flood control projects. They say cooperation with Gregoire has been excellent through the 60-day legislative session set to end tonight.

“Everybody has worked very hard on this,” said House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis. “The governor’s office was great to work with.”

Having the House Republican leader from the flood region gave the issue an even higher profile than it would have had. DeBolt made it a priority for him and his small caucus. And he said House Speaker Frank Chopp was supportive and cooperative as well, only asking questions to make sure that the bills were moving.

Rep. Gary Alexander, R-Olympia, the ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee, is DeBolt’s seatmate in a district that stretches from the Capitol city down to the flood zone. He put out a press release this week touting passage of the $50 million bond bill.

“No one in the Legislature or the governor’s office has hesitated over our request for flood mitigation funding,” said Alexander.

Rossi’s specific concerns are about how the $50 million will be spent. He’s been saying that Gregoire was insisting that money would be required to be used as the state’s share of a state/federal levee project designed several years ago by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Some locals don’t like the Corps’ plan because it focuses on the freeway corridor through Lewis County and is not a basin-wide flood control project.

In a video produced by the Centralia Chronicle, Rossi said:

I mean, there’s all sorts of other options here. It’s not always a big expensive bureaucratic solution. … Christine Gregoire’s knee-jerk reaction is always a big-government bureaucratic solution. It doesn’t always have to be that way and I think that’s why you walk through the process, you go through the paces and figure out exactly what needs to be done. You know, people don’t need crab cakes. What they need is actually a real solution that’s a long-term solution. It doesn’t, you know, just because they may have wasted, you know, millions of dollars on a plan that’s flawed, doesn’t mean that you should do the plan that’s flawed.

The crab cake reference is about Gregoire’s decision to serve flood victims crab cakes she had won in a football bet with the governor of Maryland.

But DeBolt and Alexander say the governor never insisted the Corps plan be funded. They say the administration has been working with them since the flood and that the bill leaves enough flexibility for locals to have their say.

Up to $2.5 million of the $50 million in bonds would go to local Lewis County groups “to develop or participate in the development of flood hazard mitigation measures throughout the basin.”

The rest of the money is for the state share of the “United States Army Corps of Engineers flood hazard mitigation projects for the Chehalis river basin area,” according to the bill. But that would happen only “if such projects are mutually agreed to” among the federal, state and local governments.

Rossi read the bill and said it appears better than an earlier proposal he saw this session and he praised Alexander, the prime sponsor, for his work. But he remains a skeptic and worries that locals could be shut out of any substantive role in deciding how the money will be spent.

He said there is “some local flavor” in the bill. “But,” he said, “it looks like the rest of the money really is for the Corps plan.”

Rossi is also more skeptical of the federal government’s role than DeBolt and Alexander are. DeBolt and Alexander are confident Washington’s congressional delegation will come up with the $75 million federal share. DeBolt said he’s been assured of that.

But if the Army Corps doesn’t ask for the money, it will have to come as an earmark. And, Rossi said, “We know the battle they’re having back there over earmarks.”

I asked DeBolt about Rossi’s criticism of Gregoire and plans for flood control. He said he hadn’t been paying attention to the campaign and was unconcerned that his praise for the Legislature and Gregoire is running counter to Rossi’s campaign rhetoric.

When you’re here, you focus here. Gary’s and my job was to make sure it stayed top-of-mind for everybody, because people move on to the next biggest emergency.

Other pieces of flood relief expected to be signed by the governor include:

  • $10 million in housing assistance for lower- and middle-income property owners with flood-damaged property.
  • A bill that says if a property owner got a verbal OK from a building official to tear down a flood-damaged home, a written permit is not now needed.
  • About $150,000 in property tax relief for flood-damaged farms.
  • An early-warning alarm system that would alert residences via automated telephone calls of pending floods.

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