What the heck is the IRRRB?

The Joe Begich IRRRB Building located south of Eveleth, Minnesota. (PHOTO: Aaron J. Brown)

So, you’ve started to poke around the politics of Minnesota’s Iron Range and now wonder, “What the heck is the IRRRB?”

The short answer is “Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board,” but I don’t think that answers your question completely. You’ve correctly deduced that the IRRRB seems important, controversial and maddeningly complicated. How can a newcomer, concerned citizen, rookie reporter, or researcher figure this out?

By reading this super quick explanation, that’s how!

What is the IRRRB?

The IRRRB is an economic development and public works agency funded by iron mining production taxes. Mines don’t pay property taxes, so this isn’t “extra” money, but rather money paid in lieu of local taxes. Iron Range cities, counties and school districts count on IRRRB support for economic development and community infrastructure due to the fact that their biggest industry doesn’t pay local taxes.

Why is the IRRRB controversial?

Over the years, many have criticized the IRRRB for high-profile economic development project failures. At times, I’ve been among those voices. But the agency also played an important role in a large number of small- and medium-sized successes. The IRRRB’s current role developed from a century of heated politics over mining revenue and who should control it. On balance, mines get a significant tax break and communities gain an independent and (ideally) fair way to divvy up a portion of the mining revenue.

What do we call the IRRRB?

That’s right, the IRRRB now operates under yet another name. The many-monikered IRRRB refers to the advisory board that confers its blessing on the governor-appointed commissioner’s agenda for the agency. The agency is now the Minnesota Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation, acknowledging the organization’s role as a part of the state’s executive branch.

What is IRRRB reform?

The agency continues to reorganize the relationship between the nine appointed local state lawmakers who comprise the board and the organization’s non-legislative role. A legislative audit found conflicts of interest in the board’s oversight responsibilities in the mid-2010s. At that time I detailed the agency’s development over the years. Different proposals arise all the time, from one political party or another. This post I wrote in 2016 is about a bill that didn’t pass, but includes analysis of different ways the agency could be reformed some day.

The role of the IRRRB will continue to change with the election of new governors and local lawmakers. But the IRRRB, and the funds it controls, remains an important part of Iron Range politics and should be observed with the same scrutiny as a large city council or county board.