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Oklahoma tornadoes: Legislature advances emergency aid bill

Senate Bill 249 would withdraw $45 million from Oklahoma's savings account to help local communities and counties pay for expenses caused by this week's tornadoes.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT mmcnutt@opubco.com Modified: May 21, 2013 at 8:58 pm •  Published: May 21, 2013
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Oklahoma legislative leaders moved Tuesday to withdraw $45 million from the state's savings account to help local communities and counties cover expenses caused by this week's tornadoes.

The Senate General Conference Committee and a special House of Representatives committee voted to approve Senate Bill 249. The measure is expected to be taken up Wednesday in the Senate before it heads to the House. It should be on the governor's desk by Friday, when legislators are hoping to adjourn.

Because the governor has already declared a state of emergency, the measure only needs two-thirds of the votes in each chamber to pass. Measures normally require support from three-fourths of the total members.

The Rainy Day Fund has about $577 million. State law allows up to 25 percent, or about $144 million, to be used for emergency expenses. The rest is reserved for budget shortfalls and revenue failures.

Rep. Scott Martin, chairman of the House Appropriates and Budget Committee, said state Emergency Management Director Albert Ashwood came up with the $45 million request.

“There's no disaster more important than another,” said Martin, R-Norman. “Yesterday's (Monday) tornado was just so dramatic and so drastic it has spurred the Legislature to action.”

When a presidential disaster declaration is issued, the federal government pays 75 percent of the reimbursement costs to counties, municipalities, rural electric cooperatives, rural water districts and other entities for infrastructure damage.

The local entities pay 12.5 percent, and the state is required to pay the remaining 12.5 percent, with that money to come out of the state's emergency fund, which is separate from the Rainy Day account.