MN-08: Chip Cravaack’s BWCAW Land Exchange Steals Millions From Northeastern Minnesota Residents

Rep. Chip Cravaack has spent a great deal of time promoting HR 5544, the Minnesota Education and Investment Act, as a “win-win” for northeastern Minnesota. While it does open up new revenue for schools by facilitating a long overdue land exchange between the state and federal government for lands contained within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Cravaack’s bill can hardly be declared a “win-win” because it steals millions from area residents. Indeed, a Republican-authored ‘self executing’ amendment quietly slipped into the bill in the House Rules Committee strips three counties in northeastern Minnesota of millions they are entitled to under decades old federal legislation co-sponsored by former 8th District Congressman John Blatnik.

Blatnik recognized long ago that the growing amount of land in northeastern Minnesota reserved for wilderness by the federal government created an enormous financial burden for residents and co-sponsored legislation to compensate rural counties for the loss of tax revenue. The Thye-Blatnik Act of 1948 provides for in-lieu-of-tax payments to Cook, Lake and St Louis Counties for federal wilderness land. Payment is calculated based on three-quarters of 1% of the appraised value of the land. The federal government currently owns 600,000 acres in the BWCAW, and the counties received $6 million from the United States Forest Service in 2012. Under the proposed land exchange, an additional 86,000 acres will be transferred to the federal government and the Congressional Budget Office estimates that Lake, Cook and St Louis Counties will be eligible for an additional $6 million in payments between 2014 – 2022.*

But not if Chip Cravaack and his friends in Washington DC have their way.

Because the bill contained an increase in direct spending, it was deemed to violate the Pay-As-You-Go Act of 2010 which requires budget neutrality. As a result, House Natural Resources Committee Chair Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA) introduced a ‘manager’s amendment’ in the House Rules Committee that would “ensure that the State school trust lands located within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness traded for equal-value federal lands within the Superior National Forest are not used to calculate payments to certain countries under the Thye-Blatnik and the Humphrey-Thye-Blatnik-Andresen Acts.”

In other words, in one shady procedural move Chip Cravaack and his Tea Party friends in Washington DC stripped northeastern Minnesota residents of the rights the great Congressman John Blatnik fought for and won for them so many years ago.

The US House of Representatives did indeed pass the Cravaack-sponsored bill containing the language exempting Minnesota school trust lands from the Thye-Blatnik Act on Wednesday, 12 September:

(3) THYE-BLATNIK ACT- The Secretary shall not take into consideration the lands acquired by the United States under this Act in determining the appraised value of National Forest System lands in the State of Minnesota used for purposes of making payments to the State of Minnesota under the Act of June 22, 1948, and the Act of June 22, 1956 (commonly known as the Thye-Blatnik Act and Humphrey-Thye-Blatnik-Andresen Act; 16 U.S.C. 577c through 577h).

Yet Cravaack insists northeastern Minnesota will lose no revenue. The Mesabi Daily News reports:

In a telephone interview Wednesday night, Cravaack said he was extremely pleased that after 34 years a bill to “free these school trust fund lands” had passed the House. He also said that one opponent who said the bill would take dollars away from three counties was “deliberately misrepresenting” the facts. “Cook, Lake and St. Louis counties will not be shortchanged. It will be revenue neutral,” with the only new revenue going to Minnesota schools through mining and logging in the lands opened up outside the BWCAW for development through the exchange.

I don’t know how people can be against this bill. It doesn’t detract from the Boundary Waters at all, while providing more revenue for our schoolchildren. That’s a win-win.

A win-win?

I doubt residents of St Louis, Cook and Lake Counties, already reeling from state budget cuts and loss of local government aid, would think so. $6 million over the next 6 years may not seem like much to New Hampshire resident Cravaack and his Tea Party cronies in Washington D.C., but to the cash-strapped counties here in northeastern Minnesota, that’s real money.

Cravaack’s bill as amended and passed does not serve the common good. It serves only Chip Cravaack, who so desperately needed this land exchange bill to boost his floundering re election campaign that he was willing to sell his constituents out to his Tea Party friends in Washington DC.

And Cravaack did just that. For $6 million.

*$1 million per year in perpetuity

Leave a Reply