ND universities ask Senate for changes to research bill

NDUS chancellor Mark Hagerott addresses the Senate Appropriations committee Monday, March 18, in Bismarck. Sydney Mook / Forum News Service
NDUS chancellor Mark Hagerott addresses the Senate Appropriations committee Monday, March 18, in Bismarck. Sydney Mook / Forum News Service

BISMARCK -- Supporters of a bill that would allocate Legacy Fund earnings for the state’s research schools are asking the Senate Appropriations Committee to consider amending the bill to instead include it in the overall funding for the university system.

The move comes as the University of North Dakota, North Dakota State University and private-sector research boosters attempt to keep the research dollars proposal alive after it received a “do not pass” recommendation from the House Appropriations Committee late last week. The proposal already had received backing by the state Senate.

Senate Bill 2282, introduced by Sen. Ron Sorvaag, R-Fargo, would transfer 15 percent of Legacy Fund earnings to an economic diversification research fund that would support work by UND and NDSU. The fund would be capped at $45 million. The bill passed the Senate with a 43-4 vote and received a 13-0 “do pass” vote in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

However, the House Appropriations Committee gave the bill a “do not pass” recommendation late last week, so the universities and Valley Prosperity Partnership Co-chair Steve Burian are asking that the bill to be absorbed into the higher education bill. The VPP, an organization dedicated to economic development in the region, helped bring UND and NDSU together on the topic last year.

The full House still needs to vote on the bill.

The proposed change came at the end of UND’s budget presentation to the Senate committee Monday morning.

While the bill still could pass the House, the universities want the Senate to reup its commitment to the bill and research in the state.

“This bill is a bona fide effort by the North Dakota business leaders, many whom have statewide, regional and national footprints, to diversify and strengthen our economy,” Burian said.

Peter Johnson, a chief liaison officer at UND who attended the meeting Monday, March 18, said it’s too early to determine if any proposed changes would mean the research proposal would be detached from the Legacy Fund.

Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, is the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. He believes the research dollars and House Bill 1003, which includes money for the higher education system, need to stay separate.

Holmberg said it also is important to wait to see how the House votes.

“There’s so much going on in the higher education budget that personally I’m not that excited or interested in putting another big discussion issue on that budget,” he said. “We have to focus on the funding of the campuses in (House Bill 1003) and worry about research in the other one.”