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House Iron Rangers try again in vain to save their economic development funds

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.

Rep. Tom Rukavina
Rep. Tom Rukavina

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.

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Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by will lynott on 04/06/2011 - 09:50 am.

    I’ve said it before: republicans are finding out that YOU CAN’T JUST CUT. YOU HAVE TO FIND NEW REVENUE. Restoring the reasonable tax rates that were in place before the Ventura/Pawlenty tax cut fiasco and making the rich pay their fair share would go a long way toward resolving the deficit. But nooooo. Predictably, they, just like tp, would rather raid special funds, play with phony money, make unrealistic waver assumptions, fail to repay shifted school aid, and use other accounting gimmicks, than tap the one economic demographic that is so far sacrificing nothing to help balance the budget–the rich.

    Their first opportunity at governing is a train wreck. And instead of slowing down and reducing the damage, they’re bending the throttle.

  2. Submitted by Dale Hoogeveen on 04/06/2011 - 11:30 am.

    The Minnesota Republican budget like the Republican one in Wisconsin is far from being fiscal, it is a combination of political retribution and pork, pork stolen from districts where their political opposition was strongest and given to those where they had the most support.

  3. Submitted by BILL MCKECHNIE on 04/06/2011 - 11:53 am.

    I agree that the taking of the 60 million dollars from the IRRB is wrong in so many ways that it is deplorable but altogether expected when we view the perfidy of the Republican majority. However, I wonder if the IRRB has been more active in spending the money in the name of job creation on the Range there would have been the big of a pot of money to steal. I think the IRRB spent more time acting like a bank and less like a job creation organization. They were not risk takers at all having some direct familiarity with the process. I believe that in the future the IRRB needs to hire less banker types and more risk takers who will try ten different job ideas and see 8 fail and know that they were doing well. IRRB should be run like a venture capital firm and not look to hit home run investments every time rather tell the public they are going to take risks have an 80% failure rate and be happy that they tried. If they had been doing that for the past five years, the money would have been invested on the range instead of Mpls/St Paul in a new Stadium or some other metro boondoggle. It would better to waste it all up here than send it to the Metro.

  4. Submitted by jody rooney on 04/07/2011 - 10:07 am.

    I don’t know Bill have you seen Iron World and Giants Ridge? I will say that the education building at Iron World is a spectacular innovative building but I am confused by the rest of the site.

    The thing that frustrates me is there doesn’t seem to be a visible logic on the reasoning behind the budget although there are hints of it. The press has done a disservice by not analyzing the budget priorities and cuts and the legislative majority has done poorly at articulating their decision process beyond “cut government” I would be more comfortable if their cry was “focus government”.

    I believe there is an opportunity for focus and reduction in state expenditures or recovery of costs, but I think you start with a focus on what is the states interest. Some examples would be good roads, well educated citizens, and maintaining public health. Then work down to what are appropriate roles for state government in fulfilling those needs such as road construction, great basic education system, good potable water quality and sanitation. Then for which of these services are there individual beneficiaries that can according to their ability pay for these public goods and how does that happen. Nothing is free someone is going to pay for the public goods through taxes or fees. I personally like the ability to pay basis which is a progressive total tax structure.

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