Those pesky Iron Rangers at the Capitol are at it again.
They renewed their cries Tuesday that the GOP is stealing $60 million from a key Range resource fund during debate on the House floor before passage of the Jobs and Economic Development finance bill.
The Rangers, backed by their DFL colleagues, attempted to delete the fund transfer from the bill and instead plug the hole with money from Republican-held districts. Rep. Tom Rukavina, however, withdrew the amendment after he felt he’d made his point.
Other Democrats took the opportunity to poke holes in the Republicans’ “all-cuts” approach to the budget.
Rep. Tim Mahoney, DFL-St. Paul, for example, tried to eliminate the transfer and instead make up the difference with spending cuts that would have turned the bill’s $10.4 million cut in projected spending into a $70.4 million reduction.
The measures potentially would have spared the Douglas J. Johnson Economic Protection Trust Fund from being halved. Iron Rangers use the money to shore up local economies from the uncertain economics of the mining industry and to plan for a future when all the minerals are used up.
DFLers have criticized the Republican majority for taking funds from Democratic strongholds — particularly first-class cities and the Range — and spreading the money across the state, as this bill does.
Democrats say the transfer means the GOP does need new revenue to balance the General Fund spending cuts — which would contradict the Republicans’ campaign claims that the budget could be balanced with current revenues..
“The people of the Range aren’t dummies,” said Rukavina, DFL-Virginia. “You gotta spend $60 million of somebody else’s local property tax dollars to balance your budget.”
DFLers also have taken aim at the GOP for treating as spending money the additional $1.2 billion projected in the February budget forecast. Many Republicans candidates campaigned by saying the state has a spending problem and that government only needs to live within its means to become fiscally solvent.
“I wanted to see if anyone would live up to their campaign promises,” Mahoney said about the motivation behind his amendment. “Good, grief, they basically told fairy tales on the campaign trail, and I wanted to prove it.”
Republican support for taking the money was lukewarm at best, but they weren’t having any of the DFLers’ tactics.
“Here we go again,” said Rep. Steve Gottwalt, R-St. Cloud. “We’re talking about another amendment that seems to play a little misdirection.”
Rep. Keith Downey, R-Edina, criticized the tangled “plate of spaghetti” of special funds maintained by the state. He said the relationship between local governments and the state needs to be examined and changed, calling the current system a “cancer” on “the body politic.”
The bill’s chief author, Rep. Bob Gunther, acknowledged his ambivalence about the final bill. “I was dealt a rotten hand this time,” Gunther said. “It might not be the bill you want … I evidently failed a lot of people a lot.”
In the end, the measure, sent over from the Senate, passed 70-60.