Layman, Bakk IRRRB reform bills get closer

State Sen. Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook)

Following up on my post earlier this week, the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board met this week in St. Paul. Also this week, two Iron Range legislators, one Republican and one DFLer, moved toward each other with bills to reform the agency.

In a contentious 5-4 vote, the board endorsed a plan to privatize Giant’s Ridge. State Sen. Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook) backed the measure with support from the four Republicans on the board. State Rep. Jason Metsa (DFL-Virginia) spoke against the measure, citing the loss of jobs and worries that a private firm would raise prices beyond the means of Iron Range residents.

The board also OK’ed a loan to Minnesota Diversified Industries to build a new $4.7 million 35,000-square foot building near the Range Regional Airport in Hibbing. MDI promises 100 new jobs

State Rep. Sandy Layman (R-Cohasset)

The IRRRB oversees the disbursement of taconite production tax revenue for the economic development and infrastructure needs of the Iron Range region. It’s a state agency that serves regional local government interests.

That complicated arrangement makes the IRRRB a lightning rod for political attack. Some criticism is based on misunderstanding of the agency’s purpose, but some is also based on high-profile failures in accountability and outcomes.

As we discussed earlier this week, State. Rep. Sandy Layman (R-Cohasset) floated an IRRRB reform proposal in the House that would have addressed some of the concerns about the agency’s structure. Her idea was to reform the IRRRB as more of a citizen’s advisory board. Meanwhile Sen. Bakk proposed an idea in the Senate that more closely tracks his bill last year that would have simply made the IRRRB an advisory board without changing its composition of legislators.

Well, it now appears that Layman is moving toward Bakk’s position in the interest of passing a bill that Gov. Mark Dayton will sign.

More hurdles lie ahead, but it would appear at least something will happen to address the Office of the Legislative Auditor’s negative findings in a report last year.

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