Two Harbors would lose seat in new makeup of IRRRBA bill sitting on Gov. Mark Dayton’s desk that would change the configuration of the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board — a body that oversees $30 million geared toward growing businesses in northeastern Minnesota — has drawn the ire of some Lake County officials who say it would weaken the area’s influence on the board.
By: Don Davis and LaReesa Sandretsky, Lake County News Chronicle
A bill sitting on Gov. Mark Dayton’s desk that would change the configuration of the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board — a body that oversees $30 million geared toward growing businesses in northeastern Minnesota — has drawn the ire of some Lake County officials who say it would weaken the area’s influence on the board.
The bill, which is expected to be signed by Dayton this week, was originally a tax measure approved by the Minnesota House of Representatives. It then passed the Senate, where the IRRRB reconfiguration was tacked on, forcing its return to the House.
Some Iron Range representatives and Republicans objected to the Senate’s hasty addition, but not enough to slow the bill down, and it passed 109-19.
“This was a low blow in the Senate and was not discussed with us,” said Rep. Jason Metsa, DFL-Virginia.
The IRRRB provision wasn’t completely unfamiliar in the House. Carly Melin, DFL-Hibbing, introduced a bill earlier this month similar to the Senate version that also changed the makeup of the board.
Currently, the IRRR Board is made up of legislators and citizen members. The legislator members must represent districts in which at least half of their constituents live in the taconite assistance area, the zone covered by the board, which includes Lake County.
Both the Senate bill and Melin’s would eliminate three seats held by citizens. The bills would also reduce the percentage of a legislative member’s district in the taconite assistance area to just one-third.
In the Legislature’s redistricting following the 2010 census, the number of seats from the Iron Range decreased. As a result, Range legislators found themselves with expanded districts that stretch beyond the Iron Range, thereby diluting the population within the IRRRB’s area.
The new Board would consist of five House members and three senators who represent the Range. Three positions, one each appointed by the governor, House speaker and Senate majority leader, would be eliminated.
The Senate version, however, adds one more seat — a Senate-appointed seat. The appointed senator would not be required to have any constituents inside the taconite assistance area.
Melin said her bill, which made it through one House committee but hadn’t reached the House floor yet, is more reasonable.
“This is a way to keep politics off the IRRRB board,” she said. “All we’re saying is if you represent the Iron Range in the Legislature, then you have a seat on the IRRRB. This is a fair way to do it.”
But not everyone agrees with the proposed makeup. Until redistricting, both the state representative and senator representing Two Harbors were on the board. The new legislation, either Melin’s version or the Senate’s, coupled with redistricting means only one lawmaker representing Two Harbors would have a board seat—DFL Senator Tom Bakk, whose district includes all of Lake County.
DFL Rep. Dave Dill of Crane Lake would remain on the Board, but his district no longer includes Two Harbors.
Rep. Mary Murphy, DFL, who represents Two Harbors under redistricting, has her district diluted by townships and communities outside of the taconite assistance area, like Hermantown and Proctor—meaning she doesn’t have the one-third requirement to sit on the Board under new legislation.
Two Harbors Mayor Randy Bolen said that configuration could have long-term negative effects for the city. He said the bill’s speedy passage — which legislators said was necessary because of a need to quickly fix the state tax law to mesh with federal requirements — and a lack of House committee hearings prevented him from getting a chance to comment on the IRRRB changes.
“We were preparing to go down and testify but we didn’t have time to do that,” Bolen said.
“We have concerns and we want to make sure our concerns are at least taken into consideration.”
Two Harbors recently received a major grant from the IRRRB to help fund its fixed-base operator at the Richard B. Helgeson Airport.
Lake County has also received support from the IRRRB in years past. Most recently, IRRRB gave a $2 million loan to Two Harbors-based siding plant Louisiana Pacific for upgrades, a project to which the County also contributed.
Lake County Board of Commissioners Chair Rich Sve agreed that more local representation is always better. But he said the board supports IRRRB and trusts its decision-making process.
“We have a lot of faith in IRRRB,” Sve said. “They’ve always been a good supporter of Lake County.”
Silver Bay’s representation on the Board will not be affected by the new legislation or redistricting and officials did not offer a comment on the changes.
Melin’s original bill could still pass. If it goes through the House and the Senate approves it, it would override the legislation passed Tuesday.
All seats on the IRRRB are currently vacant, pending the appointment of new members, which likely will not occur while legislation is in the works.
Tom Olsen contributed to this report.