Culver signs aid bill near empty Hancher

BY ANNA LOTHSON | MAY 15, 2009 7:30 AM

Outside Hancher Auditorium on a sunny day amid puddles and mud, Gov. Chet Culver signed I-JOBS bills into law Thursday that will secure $100 million for the UI’s flood-recovery efforts.

Though Hancher remains empty after last summer’s floodwaters filled the auditorium above the stage, the additional funding will aid recovery efforts as the university rebuilds.

“We made a commitment at that time to do everything we can to rebuild this world-class institution, and today we make good on that promise,” Culver said.

And though officials said recovery will take many years, they praised the governor for his persistence in securing funding for the state.

“Through I-JOBS, we will be able to continue our renewal of the cultural excellence that Iowans expect us to provide as well as our world-renowned education, research, and service that defines our university,” UI President Sally Mason said at the event.

Mason said what attracted her to the UI was that “nothing was broke,” which caused laughs from the crowd.

“Now, as I look around, that seems rather ironic,” she said.

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But despite ongoing flood recovery and the economic recession, she spoke about the strong sense of community.

“We in Iowa don’t do this alone, we do it together, the sense of community and mutual obligation is very strong here in Iowa,” Mason said. “The bill signing is at its heart what Iowans do best: neighbor helping neighbor.”

The $100 million from the bill comes from a $815 million package that Culver said will turn into “billion of dollars worth of investment in our states infrastructure.”

In total, the UI’s estimated cost for flood damage is set at roughly $743 million, but the governor said Iowa has secured more than $2 billion in state and federal funding.

Included in the package is $165 million earmarked for direct flood assistance to flood-affected communities such as Iowa City.

As the state recovers in what Culver called the fourth worst natural disaster to hit the nation, he said opportunities will open up to modernize Iowa’s infrastructure.

The governor noted the flood center that may be coming to the UI — it would be the first in the nation.

“We would be able to train a new workforce, highly educated workforce to combat and deal with the floodwaters,” he said.

The remaining money of the package will go to various other projects to aid infrastructure issues, housing projects, and renewable and alternative energy projects to name a few.

Though officials said the additional funding is an excellent step toward recovery, Senior Vice President for Finance Doug True said the money will not be available right away.

“It’s a keystone piece,” he said, and it will help balance money needed with expense required.
Regardless, he said, in terms of budget planning, it will help “spiritually and emotionally.”

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