Leaders at UND, NDSU testify for research dollars

UND President Mark Kennedy, left, and NDSU President Dean Bresciani speak to reporters about Senate Bill 2282 on Thursday, Jan. 31, in Bismarck. Sydney Mook / Forum News Service
UND President Mark Kennedy, left, and NDSU President Dean Bresciani speak to reporters about Senate Bill 2282 on Thursday, Jan. 31, in Bismarck. Sydney Mook / Forum News ServiceSydney Mook / Forum News Service

BISMARCK -- Support for increased research dollars for the University of North Dakota and North Dakota State University was high as the presidents of the universities spoke to the Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday, Jan. 31, at the Capitol.

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.

UND President Mark Kennedy and NDSU President Dean Bresciani had previously proposed splitting $100 million over the next biennium, with each school receiving $25 million a year. However, that number has since been downscaled to 15 percent of Legacy Fund earnings with a cap of $45 million.

The money would not be available for use until after the biennium is concluded, so a loan function is worked into the bill that would allow the universities to access the money sooner.

During a press conference Thursday, Sorvaag said the reason for the number drop is not about getting the bill passed, but finding a “realistic” number. The Legacy Fund is expected to generate approximately $300 million worth of earnings over the next biennium, according to Sorvaag, and asking for one-third of that is just too much. He added that as the Legacy Fund grows, the money could look different in future bienniums.

The bill also includes creation of an advisory committee for the fund, which would include the president of the Bank of North Dakota, the commerce commissioner, the chair of the State Board of Higher Education, the two university presidents, and four others.

The bill would require the advisory committee to report back on the work that has been done by the schools for the funds to be re-evaluated.

Bresciani said the model they are using is “proven around the nation” and added that lack of research stimulation is unusual. He acknowledged that if the proposal is approved, the research universities will have to prove the money is being put to good use.

“We’ll have a pistol to our head. We’ll be playing a bit of a game of Russian roulette and we better win or we won’t see these resources again,” Bresciani said after the meeting.

Kennedy said UND is already “putting our money where our mouths are” and has reallocated $6 million in the last three years to provide dollars he says are leading to more federal funding. The university also is investing more money during the next five years to hire digital scientists, Kennedy said.

“I firmly believe we will not only attract a lot more federal dollars to the state, but those research dollars will generate discoveries and generate high-tech talent that will enrich the state,” Kennedy said during his testimony.

EERC bill

A bill that would give research dollars to the Energy and Environmental Research Center in Grand Forks also was discussed Thursday.

Senate Bill 2249, introduced by Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, would create a state energy research fund that would dedicate dollars for exploratory research at the EERC.

The bill would put 2 percent of oil and gas gross production tax and oil extraction tax revenues into the state energy research center fund every month, up to $6 million per biennium. The money would go into the fund before it is deposited into the general fund.

Tom Erickson, head of the EERC, said the EERC has received fewer federal dollars allowing for exploratory research, which is important to create projects such as Project Tundra, an ongoing EERC initiative to retrofit the Milton R. Young Station, near Center, N.D., with a carbon-capture system.