Since the Office of Legislative Auditor’s report on the IRRRB was published, the IRRRB, aka the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board, has been under siege. The pressure has been so intense that Iron Range legislators, including Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, have proposed making major cosmetic changes to the IRRRB. The legislators who comprise the IRRRB’s board understand that the board likely violates Minnesota’s constitution. That’s why they’ve proposed legislation that would return “the board to an advisory position.” Currently, the IRRRB board makes final decisions on appropriations of IRRRB funds.
Clearly, Sen. Bakk doesn’t like the thought of not influencing the IRRRB’s appropriations. That’s why he’s pushing to maintain the legislative board’s advisory capacity. This article highlights the corruption that’s possible with the current system. For instance, Bill Hanna wrote an editorial in the Mesabi Daily News about “the ‘anti-mining play’ that was performed by the Good Harbor Hill Players at North House Folk School during its mid-June Wooden Boat Show and Solstice Pageant.”
According to the article, “Rep. Tom Rukavina said he was inclined to not give any more money to non-profit groups in Cook County.” Rukavina retired from the legislature in 2012 so he isn’t part of the IRRRB board. He’s been replaced by Jason Metsa. Still, it’s clear that the legislators that make up the IRRRB board have used their appropriations authority to influence their communities. Based on the IRRRB’s map of failures, it’s clear that they put political considerations ahead of the needs of their communities.
The original change came in 1995 after disputes between board members and Governor Arne Carlson held up action on the board. Lawmakers at the time authored legislation to circumvent the Governor’s desk when making appropriations.
Senator Tom Bakk, who is also a IRRRB member, says that situation could come up again. “Somewhere down the road we may run into that tension again but I do think the auditors raised an issue, I don’t know if someone’s going to challenge it in court or how it might go in court and it just seems like if there’s any question about the constitutionality we might as well try and fix it,” said Sen. Bakk.
Changing the Range delegation from the IRRRB’s appropriators to being advisors isn’t a substantive change. It’s purely a cosmetic change. These politicians know that their political well-being is tied to their ability to pull the IRRRB’s strings.
Keeping the IRRRB’s system more or less intact is the definition of insanity. Einstein’s definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again but expecting different results. This cosmetic change won’t strengthen or diversify the Iron Range’s economy.
That’s what the people living on the Range need most of all. They don’t need to be political pawns.