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IRRRB reform on lawmakers' plates

ST. PAUL - The state board that works to improve northeast Minnesota's economy could be unconstitutional, the legislative auditor said nearly a year ago, and efforts continue to changes its structure."The agency is an executive branch agency, but...

Minnesota state Rep. Sandy Layman of Cohasset watches as Paul Kess of the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools testifies Wednesday, March 1, 2017, to a Minnesota House committee on a bill to reform the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board. Don Davis / Forum News Service
Minnesota state Rep. Sandy Layman of Cohasset watches as Paul Kess of the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools testifies Wednesday, March 1, 2017, to a Minnesota House committee on a bill to reform the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board. Don Davis / Forum News Service
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ST. PAUL - The state board that works to improve northeast Minnesota's economy could be unconstitutional, the legislative auditor said nearly a year ago, and efforts continue to changes its structure.

"The agency is an executive branch agency, but is governed by a board of legislators," Rep. Sandy Layman, R-Cohasset, said Wednesday, March 1, before her bill reforming the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board passed its first committee vote.

The IRRRB consists of legislators, including Layman, who serve Minnesota's Iron Range area. Legislative Auditor James Nobles warned last March that a court could find it unconstitutional since lawmakers run an executive branch agency.

Layman's bill, and a similar one by Sen. Tom Bakk, D-Cook, would turn the board into merely an advisory body, leaving decisions up to the agency's commissioner, who reports to the governor. The general feeling is that such a move would be constitutional.

Layman, a new lawmaker, had wanted to put citizens on the board, but she got the first committee dealing with the bill to change it so only Iron Range lawmakers are on the board. She said that is a compromise she made to get all IRRRB members on board.

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Legislators discussed the issue last year, but it never became law. Bakk said he wants to make sure it becomes law this year, with the board becoming advisory on July 1 of this year.

Bakk plans an IRRRB bill with the board change as well as other, lesser provisions. Part of his bill will be authorizing $900,000 to allow the IRRRB to offer early retirements to its workers as the agency prepares to turn operation of the Giants Ridge ski and golf resort over to a private company.

The IRRRB makes millions of dollars in grants and loans each year to Iron Range projects. Much of its funding comes from a tax on taconite mined in the area. That tax money is considered the same as property taxes collected elsewhere.

President Paul Kess of the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools told the House Government Operations and Elections Policy Committee that his members want to make sure legislators do not get to vote on approval of how the taconite tax is spent.

Layman's bill would require legislative committees that deal with the IRRRB to be notified when the board approves loans and grants of more than $1 million. Bakk opposes that because, he said, it "kind of creates some oversight on the part of a legislative committee" of an executive branch agency.

Agency Commissioner Mark Phillips he thinks Gov. Mark Dayton would approve the bill, and Layman said Dayton assured her that he would sign it as long as all Iron Range lawmakers approve of it. Phillips said the administration has been cooperating with lawmakers on the measure "so I am sure we will get it done this year."

Layman's bill has further committee stops before reaching the full House. Bakk's version has yet to be heard by its first committee.

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Minnesota state Rep. Sandy Layman of Cohasset watches as Paul Kess of the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools testifies Wednesday, March 1, 2017, to a Minnesota House committee on a bill to reform the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board. Don Davis / Forum News Service
Minnesota state Rep. Sandy Layman of Cohasset shares a laugh with fellow lawmakers before testifying Wednesday, March 1, 2017, to a Minnesota House committee on a bill to reform the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board. Don Davis / Forum News Service

Related Topics: IRON RANGE
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