IRRRB backs off plan for private trust

On Wednesday, the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board agreed with Commissioner Mark Phillips that plans to create a private trust for a large agency fund aren’t ready yet. The agency will take the idea back to the drawing board.

I wrote about the challenges of balancing the public interest with politics just yesterday.

John Myers at the Duluth News Tribune was at the meeting and had the story:

The IRRR economic development fund, now at $175 million, is intended to help diversify the Range economy in preparation for the ultimate demise of mining.

While the private trust was created in 2014 no money was ever transferred. The board was set Wednesday to move the first $50,000 into the trust fund from the IRRR account, but instead decided to scrap the plan and let the nonprofit trust disband.

“I think we need to step back. I understand the need to protect the fund, but I want to work with staff and come back to the board” with other, viable options, Phillips said at Wednesday’s board meeting in Eveleth.

The IRRR Board was comprised of 9 DFLers in 2014. Now, it’s a more even mix of 5 DFLers and 4 Republicans from across the region. All agreed Wednesday to work on a “bipartisan solution” to protect the local tax money but still have public oversight.

This won’t be the end of the discussion. The plain fact is something must be done not only to “protect” the $175 million fund for the people of the Iron Range, but create a responsible method of using it for the public good.

If a private trust is no good, then what are the other options?

  • You could leave the money in the hands of the commissioner, thus giving future governors control over how it’s spent.
  • You could create a public authority, not unlike what you see in large metropolitan areas. This can be a way to shield projects from partisan influence, but still puts tremendous power into the hands of officials separated from public scrutiny by a degree or two.
  • You could try again to create a private trust, perhaps through some public contract provision that ensures transparency.
  • Or you could turn it over the legislature, the most chaotic and least local option of all.

If you don’t like the first three options, you’re eventually going to get the last one.

Right now, however, the outcome seems as murky as ever.


  1. Maybe it is the cynic in me, but watching the clips on the news last night, in my head I kept hearing “we can’t have a group of people to make decisions about how to use this money unless we politicians are involved because only we know best.” Non-profits have operating personnel and boards, by-laws that set up how these are established, and operational requirements, so unless the question was about how to legally put the money there, I don’t see why this wasn’t going to work other than they didn’t want it to because the politicians would not get the credit for funding projects.

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