The Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board has backed off plans to set up a trust fund that would have kept the legislature from raiding taconite tax money to help balance the state budget. Several Republican lawmakers questioned the I-Triple-R-B’s plan, and Commissioner Mark Phillips says his agency should explore alternatives — but defends the ultimate goal. Phillips says, “We collect this tax that’s in lieu of local property taxes and [some would question why] we want to spend it locally? I think that’s a pretty honorable endeavor.” He adds, “I’m not afraid to go down to the legislature and talk to whoever — whatever party they’re with — and say, well, this is what we’re trying to do. Because, I don’t know, what would their answer be? No, you shouldn’t be doing that?” Phillips acknowledges lawmakers were being asked to support something without all the details, and promises better transparency next time.
Phillips argues just because the I-Triple-R-B has a good amount of money in reserves — an estimated 175 million dollars — doesn’t mean the funds should be diverted to other areas of the state. He says the agency is working to land substantial projects to help revitalize the Iron Range economy.