Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Great Flood of 2008 Update

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.  

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.  


USwest said...

Now, this is Iowa, a state that financially before the flood, was doing OK relative to other places. Now imagine for a moment that the "big one" hits California. How prepared is our broken state? If FEMA did such a lousy job in New Orleans and, it sounds like a pretty crappy job in Iowa (no poisoned trailers for Iowans?), imagine what would happen here!

Bring the National Guard home and then bring back the WPA!!!!!!

Raised By Republicans said...

They have tested some FEMA trailers here in Iowa and found them to violate EPA standards for formaldehyde levels.

I would not want to be in California after a really big quake (bigger than 7 or so). The state is not being run well and the feds are not much help. Of course since California is much larger than Iowa, it is unlikely that even "the big one" would damage the entire state. So California could - if well managed - be a better position to help itself.

As for the National Guard...Yes, they're being deployed so much was a factor in the immediate reaction to the Great Flood. The national guard did not have a very high profile in the sand bag lines I saw. In my county, the local guard unit activated just long enough to put up sand bags around their own facility then deactivated until the crisis reached its tragic peak and they swooped in to law enforcement around the evacuated areas. Frankly, the convict labor gangs did more. The real heros were the local Amish who seemed to be everywhere making sandbags. This despite that the Amish farms are all on high ground and out of danger.

The Law Talking Guy said...

Ironically, an earthquake would flood California with the federal dollars and jobs it needs.

Dr. Strangelove said...

LTG: In theory, you are right, but RbR is saying the relief money is promised but never received. Kind of like in Afghanistan.

The Law Talking Guy said...

I know in the case of the 1994 Northridge earthquake, the money was definitely received. I don't think this is a typical problem with FEMA, just a typical Bush problem. One week left until he and his cronies are gone. I would not be surprised if the new administration with its highly placed Iowans (Vilsack at Ag) makes sure the money flows properly.

USwest said...

Are you suggesting that some of FEMA's problem was perhaps a little political revenge for being a Democratic state?

Raised By Republicans said...

I don't know that there were political motives behind slowing the funding to Iowa after the flood but I am nearly certain the Bush administration targeted Grey Davis and disrupted any number of federal projects that were designed to help California. The one that comes to mind in this context is that Davis had been begging the feds for money to clear out the dead trees and brush from California's forests for months and the Bushies refused every time. Then Schwarzenegger asks and he gets it. But by then the fires had already started and it was too late.

USwest said...

That is because Bush was pissed at all the happy treatement California got from Clinton. Let's see if Obama does a bit better. You can't really afford to have your largest state economy in the dumper. It doesn't bode well for the rest of the economy.

But in fairness, FEMA hasn't been too quick down in Texas either.

Raised By Republicans said...

Of course Texas doesn't really need any federal money. They're still trying to find new places to stick all the money they got from us from high gas prices and their energy conglomerate's flagrant violations of anti-trust laws in California and other places.