The economic woes of Minnesota’s Iron Range were front and center Monday during an annual fundraising event in St. Paul.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, hosts the fundraiser to help stock food shelves in the northeastern part of the state. With the layoffs and mine closures still piling up, Bakk stressed that the Iron Range is going through a different kind of economic downturn. He said it’s unclear whether there’s any rebound ahead for the slumping steel industry.
“People up north understand it’s different, and they are very, very worried,” Bakk said.
Bakk and DFL Gov. Mark Dayton want a special legislative session in the coming weeks to extend unemployment benefits for several hundred laid-off steelworkers. He said it would provide families some extra time to figure out how to survive.
Republicans who control the Minnesota House still aren’t on board.
House Majority Leader Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers, said there is little interest in a special session among members of her caucus. Peppin, who was attending Bakk’s fundraiser, said House Republicans don’t have a big appetite for a special session, but they plan to discuss it during a private caucus meeting Tuesday in St. Paul.
“It seems as though every month we’ve had a new proposal. One for fish, one for REAL ID, this one and several different ideas,” Peppin said. “So there have been so many proposals, that I think members are a little burned out on the different proposals.”
House Republicans also still want assurances from Gov. Dayton that he won’t delay two northern Minnesota construction projects: the PolyMet copper-nickel mine and the Sandpiper oil pipeline. GOP leaders see those as long-term economic solutions for the region.
Dayton, who also attended the fundraiser, said there have been no delays by his administration on either project. He said he plans to emphasize that point in a letter to House Speaker Kurt Daudt.
“That should clear the way, hopefully,” Dayton said. “I’m hopeful we’ll have a (special) session.”
Dayton, Bakk and the state’s Congressional delegation have requested a meeting with President Obama to discuss possible federal action to help the domestic steel industry.