Legislative Auditor: Does the IRRRB work?

IRRRBOn Friday, the Minnesota Office of the Legislative Auditor will release a major report on the effectiveness of the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB).

Though not a subject of much conversation on the street, this report has been long awaited by members of the region’s political class. Some dread what it might say, while others hope it provides direction and clarity for an agency that seems constitutionally incapable of avoiding controversy.

Here is the scope of what the Legislative Auditor’s report will cover:

  • What is the IRRRB’s mission and legal authority, and how is the agency organized? What are the board’s structure and authority, and how have they changed over time?
  • How effective has IRRRB been in economic development, trade, and tourism promotion?
  • How does IRRRB measure its performance?
  • Does IRRRB follow fair and transparent practices when awarding grants or loans?

Those seem like apt questions. However, the true answers would require a tremendous amount of depth and history. This could either be an overwhelmingly substantive report or one that skims along the surface.

For instance, will the report explore the personal, political and campaign ties of developers to the board? Probably not, as that would go beyond the likely purvey of the Legislative Auditor. Further, the IRRRB indeed has created jobs, but often at great “cost per job.” It seems unlikely the report could delve very far into individual cases.

The IRRRB is a unique regional state agency. There’s nothing like it in the United States. Iron mines in Northern Minnesota do not pay property taxes to local governments, even though they consume vast tracts of land and remain the most lucrative industry in the region. Instead, mines pay production tax, a flat rate per ton of iron mined. That money is distributed to local governments, schools and counties based on a formula, as well as to the IRRRB.

To repeat, the IRRRB operates on money paid in lieu of local property taxes, not on money from the state general fund.

The IRRRB has a charge to support community and economic development in what is called the “Taconite Tax Relief Area” (TTRA). This is an area that includes school districts in which iron mining or related activity took place at one time. This is the “legal” definition of the Iron Range, though there are enduring arguments about the true cultural boundaries of the Range. The IRRRB was created for one reason: to diversify the region’s economy to prepare for the eventual decline of mining as a reliable source of employment.

One of the weirdest things about the IRRRB is that the person in charge of it — the commissioner — is the most transient part of the organization. Appointed by the governor, the commissioner is responsible for overseeing the budget and strategy for the IRRRB. The board — composed of elected legislators from the Iron Range area — has an advise and consent role. The staff tends to the numbers and “due diligence,” as it is called but rarely defined.

Staff and board members have long ago learned to play the long game involving many commissioners over time, which limits the ability of commissioners to change much or do anything the board doesn’t like. That said, commissioners are generally hungry to make an impact, so they often take risks in the moment — something staff and board members also know.

You’ll be able to read the report at 9 a.m. Friday, March 18. It may be found at the OLA’s website.


  1. Nick Lansing says

    This will be an interesting read. I covered the IRRRB as a WDIO news photographer decades ago. My late boss, Jim Gustafson, was once a commissioner of the board. We had some interesting conversations about the institution.

    The IRRRB makes sense in theory but the reality was sometimes nonsensical. I had a queasy feeling that too many dollars were going into the curbs & gutters and town halls of the legislators’ home districts. The definition of economic development seemed too flexible sometimes.

  2. Gray Camp says

    Direction and clarity would be awesome! The IRRRB is so spread out – both geographically, and with the goals they try to accomplish. Narrowing up the focus to something achievable would be good.

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.