Reading up on the first steps in the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board's creation of the Range Trust out of the potentially unguarded Douglas J Johnson Trust fund, we were given pause by Majority Leader Tom Bakk's remarks in a Northland News report, IRRRB approves trust fund protection plan:
But in the last decade, Sertich and Senator Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook) said lawmakers from outside the Iron Range have tried to tap into the 150 million dollar trust fund for other state projects.
"This threat is way more real than you know. I have had Democratic - very, very senior Democratic members of the legislature - come to me when the state was having serious financial problems during the Pawlenty years and say, Geez Tom, don't you think we could borrow ten million from the trust fund to balance the budget?" said Sen. Bakk.
This is a fairly baffling thing for Bakk to say, and the news report says nothing about the attempted open raids on the Johnson trust funds that actually have been attempted and preserved for the record.
Since it's on a Duluth television state, Bakk's observation seems intended for the general Northland/Range population, not his colleagues in the legislature. We have to wonder why Bakk's telling them that Democrats were the architects of past attacks, rather than the members of the party that actually moved to grab the funds.
Take this report from Northland News in 2011, when the Republicans controlled both chambers of the Minnesota legislature, IRRRB Fund Cut Passed By House:
The bill passed on straight party lines, but didn't surprise Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Commissioner Tony Sertich. "Unfortunately some politicians have proposed to do this in the past as well and it's unfortunate because these are local property tax dollars," said Commissioner Sertich.
The Iron Range delegation tried hard to make that point during budget talks at the Capital. The Douglas J Johnson Trust Fund is comprised of funds from Mining Company production taxes. This money is paid instead of the companies paying property tax. Proposed amendments from range law makers to take money from other areas failed to gain traction.
"I think you have every right to come down here and defend your fund. I think the other people who are going to vote with Representative Gunther have every right to feel like this is just a time where we have an asset available to us and it's appropriate to use it," said Representative of District 41A, Keith Downey.
"Its local money and it would be inappropriate to use it to balance the state budget. It's unfair because they are asking for 70 percent of the cuts to come from the 3 percent of the population from northeastern Minnesota," said Commissioner Sertich.
Freshman lawmaker and IRRRB member Carly Melin of Hibbing said it would take years to rebuild the fund, as the cut would take nearly half of the existing account.
"At the very best it would take us 3 decades to get those $60 million back. That is not including interest; that is not including the millions of dollars lost. And that is not taking into account that it's a finite resource and once the taconite tons are gone, they are gone forever," said Representative Melin.. . .
We don't see any DFLers on that raiding party. Doug Grow had more in Riled-up Iron Rangers rip GOP $60 million 'raid' on their development fund.
Then there was the 2010 Pawlenty grab, reported in Pawlenty's Newest Budget Proposal Has Iron Range Lawmakers Upset at Northland News:
It's a plan that has the Iron Range legislative delegation "united in outrage" as LeAnn Wallace reports from the capital.
"Quite frankly it's another shot at the Iron Range by a Governor who hasn't treated Northeastern Minnesota very well at all," said Representative Tom Rukavina, DFL - Virginia.
Governor Tim Pawlenty hopes to take $30 million dollars from the Douglas Johnson Economic Protection Trust fund...a fund supported by taxes paid annually by Iron Range taconite mines.
Its one of the ways the governor is trying to offset the state's 1–point–2 billion dollar shortfall.
The Governor's proposal came as a surprise to many Iron Range lawmakers. They say that that fund is not there to help balance the state's budget. .. .
And in between? The Emmer threat. Range and Northwoods blogger Aaron Brown noted in The sound and the fury over Range taconite revenue:
. . .My observations, thus, are as follows:
Having long advocated for IRRRB reforms, I think the agency should reconstitute what’s called the “Douglas J. Johnson Economic Trust” into something with more identifiable results. A Gov. Tom Emmer would have raided the fund and quite possibly disbanded the agency, so the clock is ticking.
The GOP used this rather skillfully as a negotiating chip. Knowing that Gov. Dayton would never approve of the raid, they got to use this as a bargaining chip that probably cost the DFL in other areas.
Given all that, we're wondering why the Senate Majority Leader was singling out fellow DFLers as the raiders, rather than, say, those names of the Republicans who actually and very publicly went there.
Photo: Tom Bakk.
If you appreciate Bluestem Prairie, you can mail contributions (payable to Sally Jo Sorensen P.O. Box 108, Maynard MN 56260) or use the paypal button below:
Email subscribers can contribute via this link to paypal; use email sally.jo.sorensen at gmail.com as recipient.