Anzelc’s IRRRB daylight idea fails, for now

The news roundup from yesterday’s IRRRB meeting includes some valuable observations. The Duluth News Tribune‘s Peter Passi reports separately on the cuts to the mining production tax rebate program, with money diverted to public works projects. Passi also reported on Rep. Tom Anzelc’s motion for IRRRB support of legislation he’s drafting to repeal a 2008 provision that shields financial information for developers working with the IRRRB, language drafted for the benefit of Excelsior Energy and its beleagured Mesaba Energy Project.

Anzelc lost his daylight motion 9-4, but gained support from Reps. Tom Rukavina, Carolyn McElfatrick and citizen member Joe Begich. That is an unlikely coalition, but time will show these folks got this one right. It feels to me a little like the movie “12 Angry Men.” By the time the legislation is introduced it might count on more votes yet.

Opponents of the amendment included Sens. Tom Bakk, who sneaked the 2008 privacy provision into conference committee, and David Tomassoni, whose been Excelsior’s most forceful advocate. They said that the 2008 legislative audit (which revealed irregularities in the Excelsior loan expenditures) only showed $40,000 in misappropriated money.

That’s a well-spun historical perspective. The audit did indeed find that amount but then included a statement from auditors that much of the entire loan expenditure could not be discerned due to uncertain usage of recorded spending. Hundreds of thousands of dollars went to Twin Cities law firms that provide all manner of services, some that would have been appropriate and some that would not have been inappropriate, including lobbying government for more money on the taxpayer’s dime. And in the next session, with no fanfare, a law that further shielded public knowledge of that spending was passed by Bakk, Tomassoni, et. al.

Not a coincidence. Not good policy. Nothing anyone involved should be proud of. And, all told, the matter relates to a small percentage of what has since become $40 million in government spending on this project.

I’ve written extensively on what I perceive to be the political and bureaucratic failures of the Excelsior Energy mess. Some smart people legally exploited some big holes in Iron Range economic development policies. The big financial risk, which appears to have failed for largely predictable reasons, was born by the taxpayers. Now everyone is responsible but no one will take responsibility.

I suppose have nothing else to add. I encourage you to read Passi’s story and make your own judgements. This issue has been sown and we shall reap what grows … or what does not.

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