Rangers object to GOP budget plan

Minnesota’s Iron Range lawmakers say a Republican proposal to take up to $60 million from an economic development fund for their area is stealing.

Money from the Douglas J. Johnson Fund are supposed to be used to diversity jobs on the Range, where most work is related to mining. Taking money from that fund for other state uses is not right, Rangers say.

The money is paid to the fund in lieu of property taxes, so the Range lawmakers equated the proposal to taking other areas’ property taxes paid to local governments and using them for state programs.

“Republicans are taking $60 million from one region of the state,” Rep. Carly Melin, DFL-Hibbing, said. “Stealing this money is going to affect generations to come.”

Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, rattled off a list of businesses that have been started with money from the fund since 1978. He said every paved road in northeast Minnesota’s seven-country area has some businesses that have been helped by the Johnson fund.

But House Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, said that it is time to discuss how funds are spent.

Legislative leaders are pumping out budget bills that spend about $34 billion in the next two years, while plugging a $5 billion deficit. Republicans in charge of the House and Senate are looking mostly at making cuts, although they also propose raising some fees.

The House budget plan takes $60 million out of the Johnson fund, while the Senate plan taps it for $45 million.

Dean said money from the fund, paid by taconite mines, is state revenue and lawmakers must look at how all state revenue is used.

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