Story (In the News)


WSJ: Storm’s Toll Compared to Katrina’s

WSJ — by Andrew Grossman

Life was returning to normal in large parts of the region hit by Sandy, but officials on Monday were focusing on another problem: getting Congress to pass a funding package to help pay for the rebuilding effort.

Officials throughout New York and New Jersey are still assessing storm damage, but both New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, are already comparing the storm's cost to that of 2005's Hurricane Katrina, and they are making clear that they think Congress should send tens of billions of dollars in federal aid.

"We expect to be treated in exactly the same way that the victims of Katrina were treated," said Mr. Christie. "They were treated very generously by the American people and I think that's what the American people would want, and we expect to get exactly the same treatment."

Mr. Cuomo laid out a request for $30 billion in federal aid for his state on Monday, a number that could serve as a starting point for talks with the Obama administration, the state's congressional delegation and congressional leadership. A bill seeking money for damaged northeastern states will likely be a distant second on the agenda when lawmakers return to Washington on Tuesday to begin negotiations on how to head off a package of national tax hikes and spending cuts set to take effect at the end of the year.

Mr. Cuomo wants the $30 billion, which he said would be grouped into a larger regional plan that combines aid requests from New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut, to pay for the reconstruction of transportation infrastructure and homes damaged in the storm. He also wants grants and loans for businesses and to build new infrastructure that would make the region less vulnerable to storms.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg also said he expects to receive federal funds. City officials announced plans on Monday to allocate $200 million in emergency capital funding toward repairing storm damage to public schools and another $300 million for public hospitals. The funds are expected to be approved by the City Council on Tuesday, and Mr. Bloomberg said he anticipates the federal government will reimburse the city. The total cost of replacing and repairing all the damage to city infrastructure "may well run into the billions," he said.

Whatever the final aid request looks like, it will serve as a test of the ability of two rising national figures, Messrs. Cuomo and Christie, to work with each other, Congress and the administration on an issue of great importance to both states.

Mr. Christie has said national politics should have nothing to do with storm recovery efforts. Mr. Cuomo has avoided going to Washington during his first 22 months in office, saying he doesn't want to raise speculation about a presidential bid in 2016.

That fear was clear Monday when he was asked whether he would visit the capital to lobby for a relief package. "If I went to Washington now, what story would you write?" he responded.

Still, the manner in which Mr. Cuomo went about making a request made clear that the governor, a Cabinet secretary under President Bill Clinton, would throw his muscle around Washington. Key players in the state's congressional delegation learned about the governor's plans from reading media coverage on Monday morning. New York lawmakers from both sides of aisle said the shape of the state's final request was still unclear.

Any appropriations bill sending money to states damaged by Sandy would have to make it through the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, where a vocal group of GOP lawmakers has been aggressively seeking to rein in spending.

"We haven't seen any of the Governor's numbers or proposals, but we will work to get the maximum amount of federal aid possible for New York," Sen. Charles Schumer, a Democrat of New York, said through a spokesman.

"I'm committed to doing all we can. It's a question of how much, how we do it," said Rep. Peter King, the Long Island Republican who is chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. "We have to analyze the numbers; right now we're just talking about some general concepts."

Meanwhile, because 37 of New York City's 1,750 schools are in buildings that remain out of commission as repairs are being made, 18,000 of the city's 1.1 million schoolchildren are being rerouted. Entire schools have relocated inside other schools or, in some cases, schools have been split up by grade and placed in different buildings. Some students are showing up at the relocation sites, but many haven't made it to class. Attendance at the relocated schools on Friday was 37%, compared with 89% attendance citywide.

Power outages have decreased across the region, but tens of thousands in New York and New Jersey remain without in the dark because their homes are so damaged that the utility companies cannot yet safely turn on the electricity. Those customers will likely take weeks to restore, officials said.

Mr. Christie said that by the end of the week, New Jersey would be able to open Fort Monmouth, which could shelter between 400 and 600 families rendered homeless by the storm. He said officials were working this week to get the utilities turned on, saying the state would be able to put people in "nice housing" there as they worked to find new, permanent homes.