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Ann Rest’s amendment has sparked a great controversy at the Capitol. This article highlights how the DFL is filled with vitriol. It also highlights the fact that they’re still feeling a little sensitive about appropriating money to build the Senate Office Building. Brian Bakst and Tim Pugmire reported that tensions “rose in the Senate when majority Democrats amended the bill with a provision reallocating Republican office space inside the State Office Building to the Revisor of Statutes.”

What’s laughable is Sen. Rest’s rationalization/spin of her amendment. She actually had the temerity to say “It is not evicting you. You still have 13,000 square feet of space to operate your caucus in. What we are doing is saving the taxpayers money.”

Sen. Rest and her DFL colleagues don’t care about saving taxpayers money. If they did, they would’ve highlighted the foolish spending within the MnSCU Central Office and at St. Cloud State.

This is the text of Sen. Rest’s amendment:

If the DFL was sincere about saving the taxpayers’ money, where were they when they voted for this Taj Mahal for politicians? Republicans shouldn’t take Sen. Rest’s spin seriously. Until the DFL admits that the Senate Office Building was a taxpayer-funded boondoggle, Senate Republicans should remind taxpayers who’s looking out for them and who’s looking out for themselves.

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Last week, Senate Minority Leader David Hann wrote Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk a letter requesting that Sen. Bakk release the content of a threatening email Sen. Bakk sent to Cook County businessman Dennis Rysdahl. Predictably, Sen. Bakk refused to release that email, saying “You just can’t do that.”

After hearing Mr. Rysdahl’s testimony and reading his quote in the DNT’s article, I’d argue that it’s imperative that Sen. Bakk’s email be made public. Rysdahl testified at Cook County’s County Commissioners meeting, saying “I got an email from Tom Bakk yesterday, and he’s very concerned. He’s already hearing, again, what’s he’s heard many times before that Cook County doesn’t really belong in the Taconite Relief District, and if they’re going to take an action like this, they don’t deserve to continue to be involved.”

After reading that quote, it’s insulting that we read this opening paragraph of the Mesabi Daily News article:

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk of Cook will not acquiesce to a Republican request to make public a personal email sent to a Cook County businessman regarding the Twin Metals lease issue.

That’s BS. First, I’d demand to know which email address Sen. Bakk used. If he used his legislative email address or his IRRRB email address, that ends Sen. Bakk’s argument that it’s a personal email. Saying that you’re using a government account to send personal emails is a nonstarter.

Further, I’d argue that any email that talked about potential action by an executive branch agency isn’t personal. Based on Mr. Rysdahl’s testimony, it sounds like the email relates directly to Sen. Bakk’s responsibilities as a member of the IRRRB executive board. This paragraph indicates that the email was official:

But in Cook County, there is also an undercurrent of an Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation Board issue — should Cook County continue as part of the Taconite Relief Area and receive agency funding.

I can’t wait to hear Sen. Bakk explain how threatening the Cook County commissioners with cutting off funding is “personal.” As I said earlier, I don’t doubt that Sen. Bakk wanted to keep his threatening email private.

I hope that Sen. Hann has another plan to force Sen. Bakk into producing that email. Private citizens shouldn’t have to deal with threats from public officials. That’s what Sen. Bakk did to Mr. Rysdahl and to the Cook County commissioners.

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This past week, the IRRRB faced a ton of well-deserved scrutiny. The question going forward is whether the IRRRB will learn from its past mistakes. Prior to this week, I was more than a bit skeptical that the IRRRB would learn from its mistakes. After reading this article, I’m confident that the IRRRB won’t learn from its mistakes because it apparently doesn’t know which mistakes it’s making.

One of the key findings in Jim Nobles’ report on the IRRRB verified that the “Giants Ridge ski facility near Biwabik in Northeastern Minnesota received $17.4 million in subsidies” from the IRRRB since 2006. The IRRRB’s solution is straightforward and expensive. The IRRRB’s plan is to “offer severance pay to some workers, paving the way for the agency to turn Giants Ridge operation over the a private company in a year.”

I’ve argued here and here that the IRRRB is a failure. It should be dismantled. That isn’t what Sen. Bakk wants, though, so they’re proposing cosmetic changes and a ton of spin in their effort to continue spinning the need for them to stay involved. The DFL’s arguments are rubbish.

First, they’re admitting that they don’t know what they’re doing if they’re admitting that they need a private company to run Giants Ridge. They’re admitting that they shouldn’t have gotten into the ski resort business in the first place. If they’re admitting that they don’t know what they’re doing, why doesn’t the IRRRB sell Giants Ridge outright? This explains why they won’t sell it outright:

A private business already runs the IRRRB’s two golf courses and other facilities. The agency will seek one business to run them all, including a new events center.

The IRRRB shouldn’t be in business. Neither should other government agencies. If there’s a venture that can make money, entrepreneurs will quickly start a business. If it isn’t a viable business, they won’t. Further, the government shouldn’t get into a business if the private sector can’t make money at something.

The senator said that his goal would be to eliminate the IRRRB subsidy for the ski area, then eventually make money from Giants Ridge. The IRRRB is funded by tax on taconite mined on the Iron Range. Ski area subsidies come from that tax, not general state funds. When a private operator is obtained, the IRRRB still will provide improvements, such as working on some substandard ski lifts. The IRRRB will continue to own the facility.

It’s interesting to hear Sen. Bakk say that they hope the IRRRB starts making money on Giants Ridge by hiring a private manager in one sentence, then tell people that they’ll keep refurbishing the facilities while they retain ownership of the company.

There’s nothing in there that says they’re efficient and capable of making a profit.

Technorati: Tom Bakk, IRRRB, Giants Ridge, Government Subsidies, Early Retirement, Slush Fund, DFL

Anyone who’s read LFR knows that I’m not a fan of the IRRRB. Likewise, if you’ve read my Examiner article knows that I’ve pulled lots of information together that verifies that the IRRRB has failed. This afternoon, a loyal reader of LFR sent me this article about the IRRRB’s outright corruption. Saying that this friend of LFR isn’t a conservative is understatement. He’s a Bernie Sanders guy.

The thing that jumps out at me from the article is how the Iron Range delegation have used their positions on the IRRRB board to torment cities who don’t cheerfully submit to the will of the IRRRB board. For instance, the article says that former State Rep. Tommie Rukavina “has been outspoken in dealing with township officials opposed to [new sulfide] mining, again using the threat of IRRRB funding.”

I get it that Commissioner Rukavina is one of the strongest mining advocates in Minnesota. I’ve written about Commissioner Rukavina’s fight for mining in this article.

It’s one thing to be a mining advocate. That’s justifiable. What isn’t justifiable is threatening to withhold IRRRB funding if you don’t toe the pro-mining line. That’s a slippery way of doing things but it’s still corruption.

Here’s what “the late Rep. David Dill” said about withholding IRRRB funding:

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 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.

It’s pretty clear that these legislators that have comprised the IRRRB board are playing hardball with Iron Range and Arrowhead communities. One wonders if there’s a correlation between the IRRRB playing hardball and the poverty rates on the Range and in Minnesota’s Arrowhead.

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According to this article, Sen. Bakk has put together reform legislation that eliminates legislators as official final decision makers on IRRRB appropriations. If Sen. Bakk’s legislation passes (it isn’t submitted yet), it ” will return the board to an advisory role to the governor and remedy concerns raised in the Legislative Auditor’s report.” That would eliminate the OLA’s constitutional concerns.

It wouldn’t eliminate the Iron Range delegation as ‘advisors’ to the IRRRB, which is the IRRRB’s biggest problem.

Sen. Bakk is spinning things by saying that “the language change will address that issue because the board will then be advisory, which would mean board members/legislators would not have the final say in decisions.” From a constitutional standpoint, that’s fine but it doesn’t address the overarching problem.

The Iron Range delegation are the overarching problem. Over the past 20 years, the Iron Range delegation voted for legislation, sponsored by Rep. Tom Rukavina, that “allowed the board to bypass the governor.” Rep. Rukavina retired in 2012. The IRRRB should be mothballed ASAP, too.

It’s indisputable that some of the projects that the IRRRB funded have produced positive results. Still, that isn’t saying that they’ve done a good job. The IRRRB hasn’t. I wrote here about how the Iron Range doesn’t really have a middle class. According to the IRRRB’s website, the “IRRRB’s mission is to promote and invest in business, community and workforce development for the betterment of northeastern Minnesota.” Based on their own website, they’ve failed miserably.

Fixing the IRRRB’s constitutional issues is the least of the IRRRB’s problems. With 20.6% of the people in Hibbing and 26.5% of the people in Virginia living below the Federal Poverty Level, aka FPL, it’s difficult to argue that the IRRRB has worked “for the betterment of northeast Minnesota.” In fact, I’d argue that it isn’t difficult to argue that the IRRRB hasn’t come close to strengthening northeastern Minnesota’s economy.

Einstein’s definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results. It’s foolish to think that the Iron Range delegation will do something constructive as ‘advisors’ when they didn’t do anything constructive when they had final say on spending.

Though they’ll deny it, there’s indisputable proof that ABM, aka the Alliance for a Better Minnesota, hates the Iron Range. The indisputable proof is found in their opposition to mining on the Range. Joe Davis, ABM’s Executive Director, issued this statement on the House passing an unemployment extension bill for laid-off Iron Range workers. It said “Families on the Range could have gotten help weeks or months ago, but Speaker Daudt said they could wait while Republicans dragged their feet trying to get a tax cut for businesses in exchange. This political gamesmanship is representative of the Republican agenda that puts big businesses and the wealthy first, instead of working Minnesotans.”

Sen. Bakk isn’t a stranger to playing political games. In 2013, Sen. Bakk put funding for a new Senate Office Building in the Taxes bill that had to pass. What’s worse is that it happened near the end of session and without the public getting the opportunity to testify against Sen. Bakk’s initiative. Further, the fight between Gov. Dayton and Sen. Bakk that Speaker Daudt had to referee last year is proof that Sen. Bakk couldn’t be trusted. Sen. Bakk promised to do unemployment insurance reform after the House passed the unemployment insurance extension. There’s no reason Speaker Daudt should’ve trusted Sen. Bakk. Gov. Dayton didn’t trust Sen. Bakk last year:

For Dayton, it is not about cronyism, it is about trust. He said that he trusts House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, more than he does fellow Democrat Bakk, although he also said he and Daudt often do not agree politically.

Trust isn’t about whether you agree with another person. It’s about whether you think the other person is being straight with you. Here’s the official definition of the word trust:

reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing; confidence.

Here’s the official definition of agree:

to have the same views, emotions

There’s little reason to trust Gov. Dayton or Sen. Bakk. There’s little reason to trust ABM either. Their lobbying efforts have consistently undermined (pun intended) the Iron Range’s way of life.

One of the things I learned from reading the OLA’s report is that it isn’t big into accountability.

For instance, the Key Facts and Findings section of the OLA’s report says that “State law requires loan and grant agreements over $150,000 to contain measureable and specific objectives, including numbers of jobs to be created. In addition, economic development literature establishes the importance of specifying detailed objectives in loan contracts. Companies for 10 of 16 loans we reviewed forecast job growth in their loan applications, but their loan contracts did not require job creation.”

That’s just the start of it. The OLA’s report says that they “reviewed 15 loans with contracts or applications containing job-creation objectives. Only 2 of the 15 showed job growth aligned with objectives. Seven loan recipients had not met their objectives. For six loans, it is still too early to tell whether they will meet their job-creation objectives.”

That’s just part of it. The OLA’s report says that “From 2006 to 2014, Giants Ridge operating losses increased by more than 500 percent. IRRRB has subsidized operating losses with an average $1.9 million yearly.” As shocking as that is for most taxpayers, this is probably more shocking:

IRRRB has not set sufficient targets to measure how well Giants Ridge meets its stated goals.

Apparently, the IRRRB Board, which consists of 9 legislators representing the Iron Range, doesn’t put a high priority on holding companies that apply for IRRRB loans. I knew that the IRRRB didn’t believe in holding companies accountable because I wrote about it here and here.

If a bank operated like this, they’d be bankrupt within a month. Here’s the report if you’d like to read the report. In the spirit of bipartisanship, Sally Jo Sorensen created this online document:


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Last night, Almanac did a segment previewing the Minnesota Legislature’s agenda. Included in that segment was video of a fight between Speaker Daudt and Rep. Thissen. It wasn’t a fair fight, which is why Rep. Thissen got his butt handed to him.

Rep. Thissen said that “tons of controversial stuff were thrown into big bills right before the end of session.” Speaker Daudt immediately pressed Rep. Thissen, asking “like what?” Undeterred, Rep. Thissen repeated his assertion. Immediately, Speaker Daudt asked again “like what? Like the Senate Office building because that was controversial?” Rep. Thissen replied “No, that wasn’t last year.” After that, Rep. Thissen just repeated his line about “tons of controversial stuff were thrown into big bills” without naming any specific things.

Without thinking, Rep. Thissen walked right into that one. (That’s what happens when you’re experienced at repeating focus group-approved lines but inexperienced at thinking for yourself. The DFL is definitely inexperienced at thinking for themselves. Without thinking about it, Rep. Thissen essentially admitted that he was lying about the controversial things accusation. Further, Rep. Thissen threw Sen. Bakk under the DFL’s bus.

I wrote this post to highlight the bipartisan budget agreement that Speaker Daudt and Sen. Bakk negotiated early in the last week of the legislature’s regular session. At the time, I highlighted the fact that Rep. Thissen and Gov. Dayton didn’t like the bipartisan bill. They immediately started trying to blow the deal up. Twin Cities Metrocrats didn’t like the budget agreement because it didn’t include Gov. Dayton’s universal pre-K plan.

This will be a tumultuous session. Gov. Dayton is insisting on passing his universal pre-K plan. Opposition for universal pre-K is bipartisan. Art Rolnick blistered Gov. Dayton on Gov. Dayton’s proposal:

Rolnick (and many other early-childhood education advocates) thinks Dayton has seized the wrong high ground. For the governor’s plan “is only for 4-year-olds,” Rolnick said on Minnesota Public Radio last week. “We really have to start much earlier.” Plus, “it’s a public-school-only approach,” which would rob parents of their ability to choose. “We don’t think one size fits all parents.

“And unfortunately, the governor’s new program—which we are strongly questioning—is very expensive,” because it calls for schools statewide to hire unionized pre-K teachers. Far better to use the money to finance scholarships for low-income children—scholarships that could pay for quality pre-schools long before the youngsters turn 4. “The governor’s plan is universal in the sense that it includes all 4-year-olds,” he said. “Our scholarships can be universal, too. But the first dollars—we should make sure we first fund all our at-risk kids.”

That’s a big issue but it isn’t the only issue that’s controversial. Check back to LFR next week for additional updates on what will make this session hotly contested.

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Gov. Dayton, Sen. Bakk and the DFL in general are upset that Republicans want to include long-term relief for the Iron Range in a special session. The DFL insists that the time to deal with that is during a regular session. Their problem is that Sen. Bakk wants to use the special session to address challenges facing the black community in Minnesota.

Gov. Dayton agrees with Sen. Bakk on that, saying “Sen. Bakk rightly expressed the urgency of the challenges facing communities of color in Minnesota. I thank Sen. Bakk and his caucus for their leadership. I agree that any special session concerning the economic hardships of steelworkers on the Iron Range should also begin to address the serious economic disparities facing black Minnesotans.”

The article says that “Jeffrey Hayden, who is one of three black state lawmakers, says the Legislature could provide job training grants for minority workers or start-up money for black entrepreneurs. The AP says it could also provide incentives to encourage businesses to hire minority employees.”

By definition, that means the DFL’s plans for addressing “challenges facing communities of color” is old-fashioned throwing money at a valued special interest group without fixing the underlying problem. It’s the DFL’s version of saying ‘here’s some money. Vote for us, then go away.’

Gov. Dayton and the DFL say that special sessions shouldn’t be about working out long-term solutions for economically-depressed parts of the state. Republicans should say that special sessions shouldn’t include spending money on the DFL’s special interest allies.

Lots of people, including some journalists, think that Sen. Bakk is pro-mining. He might be but there’s a respectable case that can be made that he’s a tepid supporter of mining. Brian Bakst’s article says that “Bakk is a leading legislative proponent of the PolyMet copper-nickel mine.” Look at what he’s done to push for making PolyMet a reality. Better yet, let’s see what Sen. Bakk hasn’t done to make PolyMet a reality.

Let’s start by determining which side Sen. Bakk is on. Bakk said “I just want to take as long as it systematically takes in order to get those permits awarded. And I should want it expedited more than anybody else.” That’s a weasel-word quote. Let’s be clear. Sen. Bakk hasn’t lifted a finger to streamline the permitting process. Likewise, Sen. Bakk hasn’t criticized Gov. Dayton for proposing another review of PolyMet, this time by the Minnesota Department of Health. Thus far, the MPCA and the DNR have required environmental impact studies. Then special interests have requested a programmatic environmental impact statement. Now, they’re pushing for the MDH to do another EIS, supposedly to determine whether PolyMet would cause any health issues.

What’s really happening is that environmental activists are using the current regulatory system to delay the building of PolyMet. Then there’s this insane statement:

[Bakk] said any actual or perceived shortcuts “could potentially weaken the state’s position in a lawsuit.” Environmental groups, who are wary of the new kind of mining, have signaled they’ll explore litigation if permits are granted.

That strains credibility. Environmental activists have their lawsuits ready to file. This isn’t a case of them waiting to see how things go before determining whether to file a lawsuit. It’s a matter of waiting for the most opportune time to file their lawsuit. I’d be surprised if they don’t have the lawsuits written. Likewise, I’d be surprised if other like-minded organizations don’t already have their friend of the court briefs written.

Why isn’t regulatory reform a priority for the DFL? This isn’t about whether these projects will get reviewed. It’s a matter of whether they’ll get reviewed into oblivion. Reviewing PolyMet for 10 years isn’t justice. It isn’t being thorough. It’s attrition through regulation and litigation. Sen. Bakk has essentially defended an unjust status quo system.

Defending a system that favors the special interests over hard-working blue collar workers isn’t justice. It’s the epitome of injustice.

Saying that Sen. Bakk is a pro-mining advocate is questionable. His inactions say otherwise.