Pawlenty fails to understand Iron Range, again

I’m not as harsh in my criticism of Gov. Tim Pawlenty as most other Iron Rangers and most other progressive bloggers. I’ve always considered him a likable guy and a worthy political foe. But today, the governor deserves special rebuke for his threat Thursday to veto funding for a state study to investigate the cause of a rare form of cancer found in many Iron Range miners over the last several decades.

Gov. Pawlenty believes that any funding for a “mining” study should come from taconite tax revenue, not the statewide worker’s compensation fund. Most House Republicans agreed with him Thursday and voted against the bill, which still passed with bipartisan support. The Senate is expected to pass the same bill and call Pawlenty on his bluff.

I think most people recognize the need for this study and the moral imperative to mitigate potential dangers that would threaten the lives of another generation of Iron Range workers. What Pawlenty and many outside the Iron Range often fail to understand is that our taconite tax revenue, while significant during good times (and not all times are good), is not a secret pot of cash that we use to buy beer and ammunition. It is what mining companies pay IN LIEU of PROPERTY TAX. Mines own or lease thousands of acres of enormously valuable land in northern Minnesota and they don’t pay a dime in property tax. Suburbs raise their revenue from those sleek office buildings along the freeways and in overpriced residential homes. The Iron Range raises its school and community funds from taconite taxes, and per capita we get less money over time as a result. But wait, there’s more. All the while over Range history a portion of these taconite taxes have gone to the state general fund or to the University of Minnesota fund, money that has benefited more than a million people who couldn’t find the Iron Range on a map.

Gov. Pawlenty frequently laments any Iron Range project or program that doesn’t rely exclusively on our taconite taxes. We aren’t deserving of general state funds, because of our financial privilege. (Anyone who has been to my native Iron Range understands my implied sarcasm).

But every rock of taconite or iron ore that has been taxed was lifted by hand, shovel or machine by Iron Range working men and women. And some of them got cancer after asbestos exposure that may have come from the mining process. And today, the study that was finally going to figure out this problem, providing hope to sick people and their families, was threatened with a veto because T-Paw thinks the Iron Range should take money out of cash-strapped blue collar schools and communities to pay for it. And still today the University of Minnesota thrives in part because of decades of that same mining revenue, while every one of us will today touch steel originating from the Iron Range of Northern Minnesota.

Tim Pawlenty just doesn’t understand. At least, I hope he doesn’t. Because if he does he has a heart of coal and no business holding his high office.


  1. I agree with your thinking on the issue of taconite taxes and general state funding. We shouldn’t have to pay for everything ourselves up here. However, I must ask you to stop talking about this supposed mining cancer link like it is some big scary plague. There are only a few people that have come down with this rare form of cancer and they were all very old and worked at lots of different places. Mining is no more dangerous than any heavy industry. We also need to remember that these people worked years ago, back when there were ashtrays in the waiting room at the hospital and most people thought that OSHA was a small town in Wisconsin.

  2. C.O.–

    That’s the whole point of the study. Let’s find out what the real deal is. A lot of the guys I talk to say that everyone knows there’s some bad dust coming out of the taconite, especially in specific kinds of geologic formations. And then we have the disproportiate numbers of mesothelioma. Now, I grant you, many thousands work at the mines and never get mesothelioma. And you can get mesothelioma from many kinds of industrial work, which might be a factor, too. But we have a chance here to find out exactly what the deal is and move forward. I don’t think anyone is trying to scare people; just to find some answers.

    But your point is well taken,

  3. Anonymous says:

    I’m with you Aaron.

    But I think there’s a more important point in your article – the taxes paid by the mining companies should STAY HERE. That way, we could fund those studies OURSELVES.

    You know, if we suddenly decided that a lot of Iron Rangers shop at the Mall of America, therefore we should get a share of their property taxes, how do you think that would fly in Bloomington? Or how about taking a share of the revenues at the MSP airport, since so many of us fly through there?

    The whole thinking on how the taconite revenues are distributed is a crock of crap. Almost every major fortune in the Twin Cities has its roots in the hard work of immigrant miners. It’s time this region was appreciated for the incredible wealth it has created for this state. Instead the Iron Range is simultaneously reviled and envied.

    The biggest example is the complete and utter lack of any kind of economic development funding for this area not involving some kind of raping of the regional resources by a huge industrial concern. How about some economic development that doesn’t plunder our environment, and that benefits locals with more than just jobs? (Not that jobs aren’t great, but jobs alone don’t solve our problems.)

    I’m ready to see some economic development that provides jobs AND improves our communities. We don’t need poisonous, idiotic, unworkable power plants. We need more than another kind of mining industry. Wood products help diversify the working opportunities. But where are the economic development opportunities for white collar workers? For high-tech? For artists? We need to work on this issue a lot harder, and it would be nice if we worked on it from the perspective of small businesses, where the owners live locally, rather than inviting in another huge industrial concern who carries the profits away to some other city and state. Those small businesses are more likely to spend the effort to make their communities a better place, and to grow into larger businesses who stay, rather than run away as soon as the profits dwindle or the economic development “bribes” run out.

    What do we have to do to create the kind of political energy on the Iron Range to be treated with that kind of respect? Let’s identify it, and let’s do it.

  4. Hey, anonymous — if you’re intereted I’d be happy to run that as a guest post. You’re absolutely right. The Range needs to take the reins of economic development itself instead of burning through our one-time taconite money on outside consultants and lobbyists. There is a place for these big hail mary projects, but true success must include the local small business development you describe.

    I hope that blogs like this and folks like yourself are just the way to create the political energy you talk about. That’s certainly my goal. I’m definately not getting rich doing this. 🙂

Speak Your Mind