$4,000,000 is appropriated from the general fund to the commissioner of Iron Range resources and rehabilitation. $300,000 of this appropriation must be used in the same manner as money appropriated under section 298.17.
The money appropriated in this section may be used for projects and programs for which technological and economic feasibility have been demonstrated and that have the following purposes:
(1) creating and maintaining productive, permanent, skilled employment, including employment in technologically innovative businesses; and
(2) encouraging diversification of the economy and promoting the development of minerals, alternative energy sources utilizing indigenous fuels, forestry, small business, and tourism.
The money appropriated under this section may be used to provide loans, loan guarantees, interest buy-downs, and other forms of participation with private sources of financing, provided that a loan to a private enterprise must be for a principal amount not to exceed one-half of the cost of the project for which financing is sought, and the rate of interest on a loan must be no less than the lesser of eight percent or the rate of interest that is three percentage points less than a full faith and credit obligation of the United States government of comparable maturity, at the time that the loan is approved.
Money appropriated in this section must be expended only in or for the benefit of the taconite assistance area defined in section 273.1341, and as otherwise provided in this section.
The board and commissioner shall by August 1 each year prepare a list of projects to be funded from the money appropriated in this section with necessary supporting information including descriptions of the projects, plans, and cost estimates. A project must not be approved by the board unless it finds that:
(1) the project will materially assist, directly or indirectly, the creation of additional long-term employment opportunities;
(2) the prospective benefits of the expenditure exceed the anticipated costs; and
(3) in the case of assistance to private enterprise, the project will serve a sound business purpose.
Each project must be approved by the board and the commissioner of Iron Range resources and rehabilitation. The list of projects must be submitted to the governor, who shall, by November 15 of each year, approve, disapprove, or return for further consideration, each project. The money for a project may be spent only upon approval of the project by the governor. The board may submit supplemental projects for approval at any time.
Before submission to the board of a proposal for a project for expenditure of money appropriated under this section, the commissioner of Iron Range resources and rehabilitation shall appoint a technical advisory committee consisting of at least seven persons who are knowledgeable in areas related to the objectives of the proposal. If the project involves investment in a scientific research proposal, at least four of the committee members must be knowledgeable in the specific scientific research area relating to the project. Members of the committees must be compensated as provided in section 15.059, subdivision 3. The board shall not act on a proposal until it has received the evaluation and recommendations of the technical advisory committee.
Principal and interest received in repayment of loans made under this section must be deposited in the state treasury and are appropriated to the board for the purposes of this section.