Bill repeals IRRRB privacy provisionsSpecial privacy provisions for the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board will be repealed if Gov. Mark Dayton signs a bill now headed to his desk.
By: Peter Passi, Duluth News Tribune
Special privacy provisions for the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board will be repealed if Gov. Mark Dayton signs a bill now headed to his desk.
Maintaining that the consumption of tax money should be more open to public view, Rep. Tom Anzelc, DFL-Balsam Township, declared he would make repeal of the provision his top objective this legislative session.
If Dayton signs the Scott-Holberg Data Practices Bill, it will undo a statutory change made in May 2008, when Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Virginia, inserted new privacy provisions into an omnibus tax bill during a conference committee meeting.
Bakk did not return a call from the News Tribune on Tuesday afternoon but previously said he introduced the new restrictions into the law at the request of IRRRB leadership in 2008 and that it was not designed to serve any special interest.
Still, Anzelc, who serves on the IRRRB with Bakk, has his doubts. He noted that the law change occurred right after a legislative auditor’s report flagged and forced the repayment of some IRRRB money by Excelsior Energy LLC, which received about
$9.5 million in loans from the agency to develop a new Iron Range power plant operating on gasified coal. The loan money has since been exhausted, but no plant has been built.
The auditor’s review was sparked by critics of the project who had received access to financial records the company provided to the IRRRB. After the law change, citizens no longer were able to view the same types of financial reports that previously had been available.
Pat Micheletti, a company spokesman, said: “Excelsior did not request the adoption of that legislation or advocate for its passage. In fact, we were completely unaware of it until after it was signed into law.”
Likewise, he said Excelsior has taken no stance on Anzelc’s efforts to repeal the privacy language.
Anzelc found the only way to usher his bill through a Republican-
dominated Legislature was to work across party lines, enlisting the support of Reps. Mary Liz Holberg, R-Lakeville, and Peggy Scott, R-Andover.
Holberg said the repeal makes sense.
“I think that any time you can grant the public more transparency and better accountability, that’s a good thing,” she said. “It looks to me like this is something that should never have been changed in the first place.”
Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, said the 2008 code change occurred unbeknownst to many lawmakers who served on the IRRRB, as he still does.
Rukavina backed repealing the 2008 language and said the agency could easily enough go back to operating as it had in the past.
“I’ve always supported open meetings and sunshine,” Rukavina said. “It’s the people’s money. They should know where it goes.”
Anzelc agreed the IRRRB ought to be able to operate under the same disclosure rules as other publicly funded economic development agencies in the state. Other pre-existing portions of the state code already protect the disclosure of certain sensitive or proprietary information that could lead to financial harm.
“Most people recognize this as a good-government policy. Good government doesn’t happen a lot at the Legislature these days, but occasionally it still does,” he said.
IRRRB Commissioner Tony Sertich predicts no fallout from the pending repeal of the 2008 privacy provision, which predated his tenure.
“I don’t think it will impact our day-to-day operations,” he said. “We will have to make an effort to alert all the businesses we work with of this change. But that’s more of an administrative task than anything.”