Thursday, March 24, 2011 By Aaron Brown
Anzelc, the new chair of the Iron Range delegation, called the proposal "highway robbery" and many theft and raid metaphors would follow from the others. The conference included IRRRB chair Rep. Tom Rukavina (DFL-Virginia), and Reps. Carly Melin (DFL-Hibbing) and David Dill (DFL-Crane Lake), both members of the Jobs committee. State Sens. David Tomassoni (DFL-Chisholm) and Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook) also spoke. Sen. Tom Saxhaug (DFL-Grand Rapids) and Rep. Carolyn McElfatrick (R-Deer River) weren't there but were included in the introduction. Today, McElfatrick broke with her party in writing a letter to the committee asking that the fund not be cut.
While partisan, this presser was informative about the nature of taconite taxes and the purpose of the economic development fund in question. This money really is equivalent to local property taxes which aren't under consideration as a fix to the state budget anywhere else. The Republican tax chair who authored the bill later questioned the legality of the move, acting more like he knew this was just a gambit in what will be a long budget battle.
Freshman Rep. McElfatrick broke with her party to request that the provision be removed from the bill. Though she will continue to differ with Range DFLers on taxes this is clearly a case where one region is being singled out in a difficult budget situation. The jobs committee met this afternoon and some symbolic amendments were expected. I just got a press release from Rep. Melin, from which I share this excerpt:
In an afternoon hearing of the House Jobs and Economic Development committee, Melin demonstrated the hypocrisy of taking local property tax money to shore up the state’s general fund. Melin offered amendments to protect the Trust Fund, including an amendment to restore funding to the Trust Fund. She also proposed transferring $60 million in local government aid (LGA) that was scheduled to be paid to communities in Jobs Committee Chairman Bob Gunther’s legislative district. Neither amendment was adopted.The amendments failed, but this battle clearly isn't over, nor are most of the battles in the legislature for that matter. Watch the news in coming days as these developments transpire.
“I am committed to balancing the budget,” said Melin. “That is why I suggested the committee chairman share in the sacrifice and have his communities kick in $60 million to solve the deficit. The fact he wasn’t willing demonstrates the hypocrisy in asking the Iron Range to take this huge hit.”
“Stealing this money from the part of the state which gives so much to the rest of Minnesota is not only immoral but likely illegal,” explained Melin. “Republican members were not concerned that misappropriating our local tax revenue appears to be a direct violation of state statute.”
Melin noted the economic significance of the Trust Fund. “This fund exists to make sure our communities can continue to exist once the iron ore is gone. It is regional money used to pay for regional economic development. Without a strong Range, there is not a strong Minnesota. The Republicans have opened Pandora’s Box and sent a clear message to all Minnesotans: local property tax money is fair game to solve the statewide budget deficit.”