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Lawmakers worried funding for university projects inadequate

BISMARCK -- Grand Forks lawmakers are concerned the current budget for the North Dakota University System won't provide enough funding to address renovations to the state's only law school and medical school on the University of North Dakota campus.

The House passed the system's budget Wednesday, Senate Bill 2003, which was amended to create a large pool of funding for the University System to disperse to the 11 campuses for capital projects.

Rep. Eliot Glassheim, D-Grand Forks, said the pool isn't normal, usually a priority list is adopted and funded by the Legislature. The funding pool lists 14 eligible projects around the state, but doesn't list them by priority. Glassheim said the pool, which has $176 million, doesn't have enough money for all the projects.

The two UND projects alone make up $80 million with the current proposal to expand the medical school priced at $68 million and an expansion to the law school at $12 million.

Under the bill, schools with projects worth more than $10 million will have to come up with 10 percent of the project funding using local or private funds.

"The pool is not enough to do anything," Glassheim said. "The amount is inadequate and the methodology for approving the projects is part of the chancellor's way of controlling everything."

But Rep. Bob Skarphol, R-Tioga, who chaired the subcommittee that drafted the amendments, is confident the Senate will not agree to the changes to the bill, and it will end up in a conference committee with three lawmakers from each chamber to work out a compromise.

There, he said, the party leaders will voice their concerns over the projects through the legislators they assign to the committee.

He said the 10 percent local share is normal and the funding pool keeps capital project costs in check.

"We don't need to build Taj Mahals," Skarphol said. "We need a reason to ensure there's motivation to keep costs reasonable and still get good value for the money that's invested in buildings."

Rep. Kylie Oversen, D-Grand Forks, said without confirmed funding from the Legislature for the law school expansion, the school's accreditation is on the line as the school will be assessed for reaccreditation next year.

"The amendments don't confirm it will have funding for expansion," she said. "They're threatening accreditation for the only law school in the state."

Rep. Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks, tried to send the bill back to committee to address the issues, but his motion failed by a 53-40 vote.

The bill passed 60-33.

House lawmakers also shot down a proposal to put an additional $55 million on top of what Gov. Jack Dalrymple has budgeted to build a brand-new school of medicine.

Dalrymple endorsed the second of three med school renovation options. The $68 million option is included in the higher education budget to renovate the current facility. An extra $55 million to build a new facility was included in Senate Bill 2333, which failed by a 64-29 vote.

Rep. Mark Sanford, D-Grand Forks, said if the school does not expand, the state will have a shortage of 260 to 360 physicians in the next decade.

"There is a widening gap between the health care needs of North Dakotans and the workforce required to meet those needs," he said.

Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo, said it's funny that many believe now is the time to fund the projects because the state has the money.

"We don't have the money today ... so it isn't like we're just flush and the cash is pouring all over the table and we're going to say 'let's fund whatever anyone wants to fund,' " he said. "They're going to be wise, sound investments that are well thought out, well-planned and approved properly, and then go forward."