Iron Range Resources board back for ’09 UPDATED

This Bill Hanna story from Sunday’s Mesabi Daily News and today’s Hibbing Daily Tribune describes how the Iron Range Resources Board will likely remain unchanged this year. The board, which has a oversight powers over this unique Iron Range state agency, consists of ten elected legislators and three appointed citizens. All legislative members were re-elected this past fall and are expected to return. Sources also presume the return of the three citizen members: Hibbing businessman Jack Ryan, Chisholm community leader Shelley Robinson and former Eveleth lawmaker Joe Begich. The IRR building is literally named for Begich, so I think that qualifies him as “extra safe.”

Iron Range Resources exists by statute to manage the iron mining production tax in the Taconite Tax Relief Area (aka: The Range). These taxes are collected in lieu of property taxes from the mining companies, which ends up being a win-win for the volatile and land-heavy taconite industry and the people who live around it. Many metro types tend to think of the agency and the money it collects as being pork, but it’s actually just the equivalent of local property tax revenue to be spent on cities, schools, capital projects and economic development. How that money is spent is a matter of debate, but one to be held separate from the importance of the production tax system, the agency and its board.

Hanna’s story describes State Sen. David Tomassoni (DFL-Chisholm) as the only announced candidate for Iron Range Resources Board chair based on the convoluted “rotation” system. I can attest that State Sen. Tom Saxhaug (DFL-Grand Rapids) is also running for the spot, but that I see Tomassoni probably having the advantage when votes are counted. We’ll see, I guess. I’ve been a bit frosty toward the board this past year because of their bungled handling of economic development funds and, being as magnanimous as possible, I just don’t see Sen. Tomassoni doing much to change the tone. (Bear in mind: I am active with the Democrats, so this is not a partisan thing).

Maybe I’ll be proven wrong. Maybe rainbows and puppies. Look at how positive I am being right now.

UPDATE: The scuttlebutt is that Tomassoni might have a clear shot at the board chairmanship without any opposition. Developing …

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