Senators seek $6 million tax break for mining companies

State Sen. David Tomassoni (DFL-Chisholm)

State Sen. David Tomassoni (DFL-Chisholm)

Last week, Ricardo Lopez of the Star Tribune reported on a $6 million mining company tax break scheme snuck into this year’s ill-fated tax bill by State Sens. David Tomassoni and Rod Skoe, both senior DFL committee chairs and members of the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB).

A week later I am finally getting back into the blog after a couple weeks of writing. Did this story cause a disruption in the Minnesota or Iron Range political spheres? No, and I suppose that’s why I’m writing something today.

Unfortunately, this kind of story isn’t shocking. It has become the status quo, especially in the State Senate where Iron Range senators have used their seniority and leadership to govern by bum rushing bills they don’t want to spend time defending publicly.

Here’s what Lopez reported in the Sept. 6 article:

The proposal was not introduced as a stand-alone bill and never received public discussion. Instead, Tomassoni slipped his provision into the Senate tax bill in the closing days of the regular legislative session. A lobbyist for the Iron Mining Association of Minnesota told the Star Tribune the association did not seek the legislation.

Disagreements between the DFL-led Senate and Republican House torpedoed the overall tax bill, although its provisions are expected to come up for fresh consideration when the Legislature reconvenes in March.

Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said that when it does, he’ll be ready.

“I’m going to need more questions answered on this language,” said Gazelka, the lone Republican senator on the Senate/House tax conference committee.

Gazelka said he recalls no debate on the $6 million tax-relief provision, which he said raises accountability concerns. He’d also like to know the purpose of the provision. “I don’t think it’s clear why it would go back to the companies,” he said.

So, in this case, the iron mines didn’t even ask for this money. Members of the House weren’t even aware this plan existed, nor was the governor. Tomassoni and Skoe simply saw an opportunity to cut in on business tax breaks during long hours of negotiation. The tax bill ended up scuttled, which is why none of this saw light until last week.

Perhaps one could craft an argument why the mines deserve a $6 million rebate when they’re asking for historic concessions out of their workers, when the Range is feeling the 30-year economic burn that comes from a lack of economic diversity. But Tomassoni wouldn’t comment to the Star Tribune. Neither would Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk. This provision exists because they were hoping no one would notice it. Either that or it was $6 million requested on a whim. Neither possibility suggests confidence.

In a great irony, the plan will now face extreme scrutiny in the next session, and will be even harder to advance than if it had been discussed publicly last year. It’s not just that the Iron Range’s legislative operation seems to operate in a closed loop, it’s that it also seems unable to craft winning coalitions to pass legislation on merit.

I don’t think there’s much value in my telling you, the reader, what to do about this, or to advise lawmakers or even the senators in question. Everyone brings their own biases to a story like this, myself included. But I will say this. I don’t think the behavior of these Range senators regarding legislative strategy and conduct will change. They don’t believe this is wrong. They’ll keep doing this as long as they are in positions of power.


  1. Selective outrage again! When these same DFL’ers were giving 10’s of thousands to Meyers group to set up a call center to elect themselves (with IRRRB taconite tax money) up here, I heard crickets from the liberals. Now when the same slippery DFL’ers do an end run to get a 6M in tax breaks for those evil mines I’m sure we will hear outrage towards them. Both are wrong and we should expect more from elected officials. Why would the elected officials up here change when no matter what they do they get elected by the close minded liberals who also think the email scandal with Hillary is a vast Right Wing conspiracy.

    • Selective outrage, take 2: While the Star Tribune likes to pretend that the only source of information about the Meyers deal is interviewing people with hazy memories, the packet about the proposal is online. Sadly for Republicans squawking about the deal now after the 2014 election, when the Board looked at the Meyers group proposal–which clearly outlined what the money would be used for–a number of Republicans sat on the IRRR Board. While former state rep. Maxine Penas is dead, one of the people who approved the deal, a Pawlenty appointee, ran against Jason Metsa this past cycle. The head of the board was a Pawlenty appointee. But hey, keep pretending that nobody knew what was clearly in the packet. The Star Tribune investigative journalist did, because without that omission, there’s no chance for selective partisan outrage here.

  2. Those are amazing logical linkages. ..Hillary Clinton’s email, a failed tax break and IRRRB backdoor dealings. But, let’s examine what the actual record is regarding the legislature. First, it is most often when republicans control one or more houses in the legislature that Range legislators collude and insert provisions benefitting extraction industries. The major fights are within their own caucus. It is laughable that republicans would bring any useful policy changes; we have seen what they have done, which us giveaways to industry, government shutdowns, robbing the education funds and passing a gun bill while the state deficit was ballooning due to their idiot policies. The only difference would be the giveaways would be larger and less money would go to assist the range. Myers was not even spoken about, much less covered in the official party organ paper for mining and boosterism, the MDN. And, just like the 2011 shutdown bill, the Range Dfl collaborated with the Republican majority to sweeten the pot but we’re stopped this time

  3. Paul, the linkage is easy, slippery DfL tactics up here on the Range and slippery tactics by Hillary. Why would either stop while they get supported by the voters who can only see through liberal eyes. When the education funds do get robbed, please let me know, we spend billions on top of billions for poor education results. Just because no one reported on the Meyers group doesn’t mean it was right to do, if you think using IRRRB funds, given by the DFL run board, to have a call center to elect the very same people who gave them tax money is ok, that speaks volumes. I would like to see your reaction if that call center was given taconite tax money by the GOP to elect the same GOP folks who gave them the money.

  4. Paul, the linkage is easy, slippery tactics by both DFL and Hillary. We spend billions on education and when we start the robbing of education please let me know. If you think that the DFL run IRRRB board giving the Meyers group taconite tax money to run a call center to get them re-elected is ok because no one reported on it, that speaks volumes.

  5. If you had actually read it without prejudice, or anything else I have written, you would know that if anyone is critical of the Range DFL, it is I. The disconnection between whatever Breitbart gossip regarding Hillary you spread and the local policies of the Range DFL, a group that operates as an internal government fifth column for the mining and extraction industry is fairly obvious. Your argument is that somehow the Republicans would emphasize different policy, and that argument is ludicrous when you look at the actual record. If anything, they would merely loosen the lightly, but finally federally (and not state, wholly captured politically) enforced regulation on the industry. and subsidize it yet more, regardless of the consequences to the public here and and in the future. If you had observed that the worst giveaways the Range DFL has backed occurred in the 2011 provisions slipped into the Government shutdown bill, including some that didn’t make it, such as the wetlands provisions allowing replacement for mining impacts in the Red River watershed, or in this latest session, were done in collaboration with the Republican controlled house, and not under DFL control. It was the internal DFL caucus that actually fought against the those provisions, and the Republicans. While I support most of their other policies, which are actually very progressive, the industry’s control on the area and the actions of all those co-opted or as outright advocates, influences everything that happens, what is said or unsaid and what the possibilities are. For anyone to say the IRRRB-mining money system would be any different under local Republican control is either lying or stupid. It’s subsidies and support of the industry, including financing land exchanges for foreign owned mining companies would not end, nor would the local system of above board graft now done in secret. Even if only a certain percentage was dedicated to reclamation and restoration, and the rest was given out in 50,000 dollar chunks to random lottery winners across the range, the results would be more honest and likely have better results.

  6. So the DFL run IRRRB board wouldn’t be different under GOP control? How would you know that? It has never been run by anybody but the DFL!!!! Predicting the future is quite a gift, you must be great at stock picking. It is and has been run so poorly that anybody up here should be looking for a change. I like the fact that Hillary’s troubles are “Breitbart gossip”, there is an FBI investigation on her. Solid use of liberal talking points, which is par for the course on most Democratic disasters these days by liberals.

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