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Public Statements

Minnesota Education Investment and Employment Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. CRAVAACK. I thank the chairman for yielding.

I rise today in support of H.R. 5544, the Minnesota Education Investment and Employment Act. This bill supports all schools in the State of Minnesota, creates good-paying jobs in northern Minnesota, and makes the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness whole for the first time since its creation.

First, a little bit of history. When Minnesota became a State in 1858, sections 16 and 36 of every township were set aside in trust for the benefit of schools. The State could use, lease, or sell the land to raise money for education. In the beginning, the State leaders decided to sell some of the more valuable parcels of school trust lands. But around the turn of the century they realized they needed more sustainable plans and began putting the school trust lands to productive use: timber and mining in my district. As Democrat State Representative Denise Dittrich has so ably educated me, these lands are not so much owned by the State as held in trust by the State and owned by the schoolchildren of Minnesota. It is the responsibility of school trust fund trustees to maximize the return of these lands for the benefit of this fund for our children. This is written in the Minnesota constitution.

But in the 1970s, the Federal Government created the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The lands within the Boundary Waters cannot be logged, leased, sold, or mined in order to preserve the unique wilderness character of this pristine land. But as a result of its creation, Minnesota and its students have been faced with an 86,000-acre problem for over 30 years. Eighty-six thousand acres of State-owned school trust lands have been landlocked within the borders of the Boundary Waters and have been unable to produce critical funding for Minnesota public education. It is imperative that we resolve this longstanding problem. Our goal is to preserve and protect the Boundary Waters and allow State-owned school trust lands to raise revenue for Minnesota education. It's a win-win. Unfortunately, Minnesota schoolkids and their teachers have been cheated out of public education funding now for over 34 years.

Finally, after years of inaction, stalling, and dilatory tactics by special interest groups, Republicans and Democrats have come together in Minnesota and said: Enough is enough. On March 22 of this year an overwhelming majority of Democrats and Republicans in the State passed senate file 1750 by a vote of 53-11 to pass the bill. On April 3, the house followed suit, passing their bipartisan bill by 90-41. On April 27, Democrat Governor Mark Dayton signed the bill into law.

H.R. 5544 executes the bipartisan State plan. This bill would exchange State-owned school trust lands trapped in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness to the Federal Government in exchange for Federal Government-owned land outside the Boundary Waters. Additionally, this bill includes important provisions that would ensure Minnesotans can maintain their hunting and fishing rights within the Boundary Waters. To be clear, this bill does exempt only the land exchange portion from NEPA. The land exchange itself would have no environmental impact, and any future development would still be subject to strict State and Federal regulations. Again, a land swap is merely a redrawing of maps and has no environmental impact in and of itself.

I want to be very transparent here, though. One of my goals is to have this bill create good-paying jobs in northern Minnesota. The lands listed in senate file 1750 are rich in natural resources. Many of them lie within portions of the Superior National Forest that are already being successfully mined for timber. It's a working forest and creates thousands of good-paying jobs in the region. Northern Minnesotans need these opportunities, and every American benefits from the steel and the lumber that goes into our cars and our homes.

I generally support the aims of NEPA, but obstructionist and special interest groups have a track record of abusing the NEPA process. The State of Minnesota cannot afford to be sued by environmental groups for years into the future just for the sake of blocking this land exchange. I will not allow special interest groups, acting in bad faith, to abuse the NEPA process and use frivolous lawsuits to block and derail this land exchange at the taxpayers' expense. Schoolkids and teachers in Minnesota can't wait years, possibly decades, for this funding. In the school district where I live, North Branch, Minnesota, some classes have 40 kids and the school has been reduced to a 4-day school week. You call this progress?

This legislation will generate a lot of funding for our schools and create good-paying jobs. Importantly, the Minnesota Education Investment and Employment Act would not eliminate a single acre of Boundary Waters land and cost nothing to the American taxpayer. In fact, it would add acreage within the existing wilderness area boundaries while giving Minnesota schoolchildren the land that rightfully belongs to them.

I urge my colleague to support this bill.

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Mr. CRAVAACK. Mr. Chairman, I rise in opposition to this amendment.

The Secretary already has the authority that the amendment is supposed to possess. That's what got us here in the first place. This amendment would undermine the purposes of the bill by giving the Secretary the option to continue the delaying and obstructing of a land exchange with the State of Minnesota. This is an issue that Minnesota and the Federal Government have been working on for over three decades under existing authorities. This amendment would only continue the status quo, so I must oppose it. Stalling the process further helps no one, least of all the schoolchildren and teachers of Minnesota.

Mr. Chairman, we've had public input for over 30 years, and that has culminated in the bipartisan State Senate File 1750 that was passed earlier this year by an overwhelming bipartisan vote in the State legislature and signed by Democrat Governor Mark Dayton. The public has spoken. The bill has the support of the people of the Eighth District of Minnesota, and it would execute a bipartisan plan passed by the Minnesota Legislature and signed by the Governor. The only groups that oppose this bill are fringe groups, many of those being from out of State.

This amendment would give the environmentalists free rein to sue the Federal Government and have attorneys' fees paid for by the taxpayers of the United States. I urge my colleagues to oppose this amendment.

In addition, we have heard a couple of times today, Where is the map? Well, here it is. Here is the map. H.R. 5544 no longer contains a direct reference to the Forest Service map because H.R. 5544 is executing a State bill, State File 1750, which does specify lands to be exchanged in section 4 of the bill.

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Mr. CRAVAACK. Mr. Chairman, because of the way this amendment is worded, I have some concerns about how it's going to affect mining and timber jobs in the new school district lands.

I yield to the gentleman to explain how he thinks the amendment would affect jobs in the Eighth District of Minnesota concerning mining and lumber.

Mr. ELLISON. If I understand the gentleman's question correctly, I think that it will negatively impact jobs.

Mr. CRAVAACK. Reclaiming my time, Mr. Chairman, I would ask my colleague if he knows how much mining taxes contribute to the State of Minnesota.

I yield to the gentleman.

Mr. ELLISON. The point of my amendment is that this bill, your bill, is going to hurt small business.

Mr. CRAVAACK. Reclaiming my time.

Mr. ELLISON. Look. I'm not going to yield to you if you won't let me answer the question.

Mr. CRAVAACK. He is out of order, Mr. Chairman.

The CHAIR. The gentleman from Minnesota controls the time.

Mr. CRAVAACK. Mr. Chairman, as you can see from the most recent ``Mining Tax Guide'' from the State of Minnesota, the Eighth District of State of Minnesota contributes $79.1 million to the State of Minnesota. That is just not inclusive of the income related to taxes from jobs from the mining that will go on in the State of Minnesota.

Is the gentleman opposed to mining in Minnesota? Can he give me an example of how he has supported mining?

I yield to the gentleman.

Mr. ELLISON. If the gentleman is going to let me answer, I will be happy to answer you.

Mr. CRAVAACK. I yield to the gentleman.

Mr. ELLISON. Thank you. I appreciate that. Look, the fact is what you're doing is trying to say that you're going to stand up for the big-money people, as opposed to the cumulative small business people. I think if you put the number of small business people together, your big multinational mining interests that are going to pollute their business----

Mr. CRAVAACK. Reclaiming my time, Mr. Chairman, I'm going to tell my colleague how much mining and timber contributes to the school trust fund.

Mr. Chairman, in the most recent school trust fund report, it shows that mining and timber contributed $23.17 million in 2011. Now, maybe that doesn't sound like much here inside the Beltway; but I tell you what, that's a lot of money where I come from.

Does the gentleman think that schools in Minneapolis are adequately funded? I'll answer that for you, probably not. Because in North Branch, Minnesota, where I live, public schools just went to 4 days, and then we've got 40 kids in a classroom. I think our teachers and kids could use the extra funding.

Also I'm very interested right now that now the gentleman is very concerned about small business interests in the rural communities. I find that very enlightening.

I yield to the gentleman if he could tell me how a small business would be affected by this land exchange and job creation.

Mr. ELLISON. I will tell you this, about less than 1 percent of money for schools comes from trust lands. It's a very tiny percentage. I mean, so we're going to sacrifice our heritage for a multinational mining company----

Mr. CRAVAACK. Reclaiming my time, obviously the gentleman from Minnesota does not think any money going into the school trust fund is beneficial. Decisions such as these should not be made by Washington bureaucrats in D.C. They should be made by Minnesotans, and that is how we got into this mess in the first place.

The bill merely executes a bipartisan State plan signed by the Governor, State senate file 1750. We cannot trust Washington political appointees with the power to derail this land exchange at the expense of Minnesota schoolchildren and their teachers.

I urge my colleagues to oppose this amendment.

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Mr. CRAVAACK. I rise in opposition to the amendment. This amendment is unnecessary and would only further serve to delay implementation of the overall bill. The valuation of the lands to be exchanged as required by Minnesota senate file 1750 requires that the lands not only be substantially equal in value, but that the valuation is done ``in a manner as agreed to between the State commissioner and the authorized representative of the United States.'' In addition, subsection (d) of H.R. 5544, on page 4, requires the survey to be satisfactory to the Secretary of Agriculture.

We have had 30 years of delay, 30 years of appraisals, 30 years of mapmaking. We don't need any more. These are the lands of the children of Minnesota, and they're entitled to them.

Mr. Chair, the State knows what the land is worth just as well as the Federal Government. We can do it for lower cost since so much of the work has already been done. The lands have been identified. Here's the map. This section right here and this section right through there.

This amendment is a stall tactic, quite frankly, to increase the administrative burden and increase costs to the State.

Subsection (d) also requires for the State to cover all costs. It is grossly unfair to ask the State to pay for an appraisal and then be made to comply with bureaucratic Federal rules in the process of valuation. The legislation leaves the Secretary ample authority to properly protect taxpayers and does not waive any applicable appraisal standards. Both H.R. 5544 and Minnesota Senate File 1750 require negotiations to be mutually agreed upon, and the lands conveyed to the State would be subject to all applicable State and local laws.

I urge my colleagues to oppose this amendment.

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