Lawmakers from the Iron Range are fuming over a move by Republicans to use dedicated northern Minnesota economic development dollars to help solve the $5 billion budget deficit.
In budget proposals rolled out this week, Republicans in the House and Senate proposed transferring $60 million and $45 million, respectively, from the Douglas J. Johnson Fund into the general fund. The dedicated fund was set up in 1977 to use taconite mining taxes to promote economic development in the Iron Range.
Range Rep. Tom Anzelc, joined by other northern Minnesota legislators at a Thursday Capitol news conference, said dollars from the fund are the equivalent of property taxes in their districts. He said Republicans are singling out the DFL-strong Iron Range and not fairly taking property taxes from other areas across the state.
Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, criticized Republicans for taking economic development dollars away from northern Minnesota while promoting job creation on the campaign trail. “For the party of jobs to do this to an area trying to get jobs is…embarrassing,” he said. “What goes around comes around, and someday we will be in a position to evaluate.”
Freshman Rep. Carolyn McElfatrick, the only Republican to represent the Iron Range, stands with DFLers in opposing use of the cash. She recently sent a letter to GOP Rep. Bob Gunther, who authored the provision, saying the move will hurt job growth in her district.
“As you know, the Douglas Johnson fund was set up to foster economic development and promote employment diversification on the Iron Range, an area hit hard by their dependence on a single industry for so many years,” she wrote. “Taking these funds away from our area at a time when the economy is just starting to rebound will hurt our ability to participate in the job growth we might otherwise experience. Strategic investment of this money in the development of minerals, forestry, small business, and tourism is essential to the economic recovery of the Iron Range.”