BISMARCK — A bill being considered by a North Dakota House committee would designate Legacy Fund earnings for research at the University of North Dakota and North Dakota State University in order to diversify the economy of North Dakota.
Senate Bill 2282 is up for a hearing in the House Appropriations committee on Monday afternoon, March 11. The committee is chaired by Rep. Jeff Delzer, R-Underwood.
The bill, 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.
It passed the Senate 43-4.
Rep. Jake Blum, R-Grand Forks, said he is supportive of the idea but added he’ll need to wait for the hearing before deciding if this bill is the best way to pursue it or if another option, such as putting money into the university system budget, is the better way forward.
“Research is vitally important, and I support investing more into our institutions so they can ultimately do more,” he said.
There are “plenty of conversations happening” with regard to Legacy Fund earnings, so it is important for legislators to “not fixate in any one particular funding source,” Blum said.
Rep. Matt Eidson, D-Grand Forks, says he supports the bill fully and plans to vote in favor of it whenever it reaches the House floor.
“I think it’s long overdue,” he said. “There are states all around the country that have been providing research-based funding to the universities for forever now as a way to drive their economy and also to diversify their economy.”
Last year, UND President Mark Kennedy and NDSU President Dean Bresciani spent time traveling around the state to speak about the value of research and its economic impact on the state. The two had previously proposed splitting $100 million over the next biennium, with each school receiving $25 million a year. However, that number has since been reduced to 15 percent of Legacy Fund earnings.
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.
While the current form of the bill sits at $45 million for the two institutions to split, Eidson said he would have liked to see the proposal stay closer to $100 million.
The House recently passed House Bill 1333 by a vote of 73-20. The bill contains similar language to SB 2282, but does not limit grants to the state's research universities. The funding is also lower, around $3 million.
The House bill, introduced by Rep. Mike Nathe, R-Bismarck, would create a Legacy Investment Fund for Technology that would support technology advancement in the state. Under this bill, a committee would be created that would also include the president of the Bank of North Dakota, with no specific higher education officials.
The fund would be administered by the Bank of North Dakota.