When it comes to scoring perks for constituents, legislators win some and lose some. And sometimes they hang on to win what they earlier lost.
DFL legislators from the Iron Range promoted legislation that required any solar panels installed in buildings, highways and bridges by the Minnesota Department of Transportation to be manufactured in Minnesota.
Only two Minnesota firms make such panels, one of them located on the Iron Range. Silicon Energy of Mountain Iron said it needed the break to compete with cheaper panels made elsewhere in the United States and in China.
After reports surfaced about the “Minnesota Mandate,” Republican lawmakers denounced it. Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, said the state should invite competitive bidding from any manufacturer.
“Sometimes the most expensive product does provide you the best value,” he noted. “Other times it doesn’t. So it’s silly to mandate it in state law.”
Rep. Mike Benson, R-Rochester, said the entire bill should be rejected if the mandate survived. But the DFL-controlled Minnesota House last week passed the perk in a transportation policy bill.
Still, the bill needed to be reconciled with a Senate transportation measure that did not contain the perk.
Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, chairman of a House transportation committee, introduced the mandate this week to a House-Senate conference committee by acknowledging, “I know this may not be the most popular thing in the world.”
It wasn’t. The conference committee stripped the perk from the transportation policy bill on a voice vote.
But the idea isn’t dead.
A “Made in Minnesota” provision survives in energy bills that have passed the House and the Senate.
While it no longer applies specifically to the Department of Transportation, the perk would subsidize owners of solar panels who buy them from Minnesota manufacturers.