The sound and the fury over Range taconite revenue

This morning Gov. Mark Dayton signed the last of the budget bills ending the Minnesota state government shutdown and funding the next biennium. Though the deal was messy and unpopular, arguably unwise, it will be nice to have a semblance of normalcy return to what was once regarded as a good governance state.

I’m also happy to report that the much-discussed raid of $60 million in local Iron Range taconite revenue (taxes paid by mines in lieu of property taxes) was not part of the final tax bill. All of that money remains in the control of the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB) tasked with using it to encourage job growth on the Iron Range.

While this is right and fair, the whole escapade is very frustrating. That local money should never have been under consideration as a state budget fix. But, because the state has statutory control over the IRRRB, which is an unusual agency serving one region that has been reliably DFL in nature, we had to have an unpleasant screaming match that, as Faulkner would say, signified nothing.

My observations, thus, are as follows:

  • Having long advocated for IRRRB reforms, I think the agency should reconstitute what’s called the “Douglas J. Johnson Economic Trust” into something with more identifiable results. A Gov. Tom Emmer would have raided the fund and quite possibly disbanded the agency, so the clock is ticking.
  • The GOP used this rather skillfully as a negotiating chip. Knowing that Gov. Dayton would never approve of the raid, they got to use this as a bargaining chip that probably cost the DFL in other areas. 
  • Huge pots of money named for former politicians never die a heroes death. We should move forward with this being considered a fact, not a theory. 
  • A great amount of political power and personal prestige is tied up in the IRRRB’s management of this fund. Changing it will be hard. But I don’t think any in the Range political structure can argue that the status quo is safe into the future. Lacking votes to protect the agency by law, it must defend itself through successful action.


  1. I’ve also been promoting this via our local representatives for months Aaron.

    Anzelc, Melin, Rukavina, Tomassoni, et al have received on-going correspondance from me encouraging they either take action to more tightly, legally protect this fund, or be prepared to relinquish control.

    I’m not fond of naming bridges, roads, buildings, funds…or ships after politicians either. They all sink sooner or later.

  2. While I agree that it’s silly on its face that the state could go in and raid what’s essentially local property tax money from the IRRRB, didn’t state taxpayers basically bail out the IRRRB back in the early 2000’s? I don’t remember for sure and could have my facts wrong, but if this is the case why should the IRRRB be allowed to take money from state taxpayers when it needs it but never expect the state to take the money back? If the bailout never happened, I agree that the money grab is absurd.

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