About 6 to 7 months ago, the worst flood to hit the midwest since European settlement hit the state of Iowa. The Great Flood of 2008 had every river in the state of Iowa flooding for weeks. The scope of the flood was enormous. In the city of Cedar Rapids (not Cedar Falls as frequently reported by the national media), 25,000 people were displaced from their homes out of a population of about 200,000. Most of the counties in the state were declared Presidential disaster areas. Billions of dollars of damage were done in Iowa. Homes, businesses and crops were destroyed. Bridges were washed out or damaged. These are the same bridges that had been neglected by declining spending on infrastructure by the federal government for a decade or more. Iowa's infrastructure suffered a major blow. At the time of the flood I bloged about it and expressed by despair that there would be any follow through by the federal government in actually helping in the recovery.
Sunday, January 11, 2009
So where are we now? The national economy has gone into a steep decline. Unemployment is up. The specter of deflation is looming over the world economy. The national budget deficit is projected to be about 8% of GDP and expectations are that with all the stimulus packages Obama is talking about, next year's deficit will be even larger. Here in Iowa, the dependence on agricultural commodities has cushioned the local economy somewhat. But while the rest of the country is talking about cutting taxes and doing stimulus spending, Iowa's states and counties are being forced to raise taxes to pay for flood recovery. Why? Because the feds have yet to send any money our way. I heard recently that the University of Iowa has been informed that the FEMA relief that was supposed to cover 90% of the uninsured damage to the campus will actually come up $30 million short of the mark. Cedar Rapids has not seen anything more than a trickle of money from the Feds. I hear in the news that that city is raising taxes so they can meet payroll and keep the streets clear of snow and ice. There is no word on when federal money will be forthcoming.
The economic situation in the state is exacerbated by the national and global economic downturn. The state has cut the budget of the state universities, including U. of Iowa, by about 2 to 3%. The papers are reporting that U. of Iowa will raise tuition, freeze salaries and - of course - delay flood reconstruction. Several departments are still housed in what amounts to an abandoned warehouse. Iowa State and University of Northern Iowa were not damaged by the flood and the budget cuts that are hitting them are provoking more conventional responses.
The biggest problems in flood recovery are still in Cedar Rapids though. I recently drove over there to watch a minor league hockey game and there are still entire residential neighborhoods of abandoned houses. Flood debris still pokes out from under the snow. The down town looked pretty sad before the flood and it looks even sadder now. A friend of mine in a small town near Cedar Rapids that is on high ground said that her condo building was half empty before the flood and is now full. She thinks most of the new comers are displaced people from Cedar Rapids.
The good news for home owners near the flooded areas is that with so many homes destroyed in Cedar Rapids, there is less of a glut of houses on the market around here. Indeed, I've heard that Des Moines is one of the few major real estate markets in the country in which home prices have continued to rise. Of course in the context of the flood damage etc, steady but small rises in home values is rather cold comfort.
Posted by Raised By Republicans at 6:25 AM