More Things
Youse guys wan' minin', right? - MPR photo
by Steve Timmer
Mar 22, 2016, 4:30 PM

“Nobody wants to talk about the good things it does”

Good things like this, eh, Ruk?

[The hed is a quote from Tom Rukavina in a Strib article on the recent IRRRB report by the legislative auditor, discussed here.]

From the Cook County News Herald a few years ago:

According to Cook County Commissioner Bruce Martinson, several members of the Iron Range Resources Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB) were angry after reading an editorial by Bill Hanna in the Mesabi Daily News on Sept 4.

Hanna wrote 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.

Martinson addressed the Tofte Town Board at its September 8 meeting. He had just come back from attending an IRRRB meeting, and said the tone toward Cook County was cool.

“Rep. Tom Rukavina said he was inclined to not give any more money to non-profit groups in Cook County,” said Martinson.

Or more recently, this:

[I]t’s not terribly difficult to find someone who’s been on the receiving end of a letter or phone call from former State Rep. Tom Rukavina, who is currently running for St. Louis County Commissioner. He has been outspoken in dealing with township officials opposed to [new sulfide] mining, again using the threat of IRRRB funding.

Or this, from the same linked LeftMN story, quoting a letter to the editor from the late Rep. David Dill, also concerning Cook County:

There are times when Senator Bakk and myself [sic] have to fight and answer questions from core Iron Range legislators as to why Cook County should get taconite tax dollars when they hear anti-mining rhetoric from some citizens in Cook County.

Legislators are listening to the mining debate [about sulfide mining] going on in the Cook County and elections have consequences. The rail harbor has been shut down for years. The power plant is reducing its output and with generator No. 3 scheduled to be closed in the future there will be more questions. The loss of millions of production tax dollars a year would be devastating to businesses, Grand Marais, the school and the county. The local boards would have very tough decisions to make.

Other counties have stayed in the service area after mining has left their communities. Those communities have realized the benefit it is to be a part of a “mining region” and likewise have supported mining.

In the earlier story, I paraphrased it this way:

Yeah, nice lil’ county ya got dere. Shame if sumptin’ happin ta it. So wacher moufs.

My friends, this is your IRRRB at work. Charmless thuggery and blackmail.

Before Harold Stassen headed off to war, he helped set up the IRRRB to assist the Range transition to a post-mining future. But what has happened is that the IRRRB has become an institution whose principal purpose is its own perpetuation, the increase in mining production taxes paid to it, and the increase of political patronage of the Range legislators who sit on the board.

One has to wonder how many fundraisers, fish fries, and bean feeds have been organized for the board members over the years by the county and township board members, the city council members, and the school board members, and all the others who are beholden to these IRRRB board members.

I’ve called the IRRRB board members the emirs of northern Minnesota. The legislative auditor calls them “unaccountable.” In recent comments, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk promises changes, but as entrenched as the Range is in the legislature, the Senate leadership especially, I won’t hold my breath.

I think the courts are going to have to declare this an unconstitutional mess, and the sooner, the better.

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