Amendments revive North Dakota higher-ed proposals, including research fund and UND space command initiative
The proposals were removed from their original legislation prior to cross over day on Feb. 26.
Multiple higher education proposals are being revived in the North Dakota Legislature after missing the cut before crossover day last month.
In two separate bills, legislators have introduced amendments that would give money to research and career and technical education programs in the state, as well as money for UND’s space command initiative. The proposals were removed from their original legislation prior to crossover day on Feb. 26.
The research initiative , which has been evolving over the last two and a half years, would give Legacy Fund earnings to North Dakota’s colleges and universities for research, with most of the money going to UND and North Dakota State University.
The amended version, introduced by Sen. Ron Sorvaag, R-Fargo, would allocate a percentage of Legacy Fund earnings to an economic research diversification fund, with the dollars being paid to the universities at the end of the 2021-23 biennium. As the Legacy Fund currently stands, that would equate to about $31.3 million to the universities. But that amount could grow, depending on the growth of the Legacy Fund over the next two years.
A majority of the dollars, or about 90%, would be split between UND and NDSU, with the other nine public schools splitting the remaining 10%. There would be a committee to oversee the fund, which would be run through the Bank of North Dakota.
Proponents of the research proposal testified in front of the Senate Finance and Taxation committee on Wednesday, March 17. The higher-ed leaders spoke of the importance of research and the benefits it can have for the entire state, including economic diversification.
UND President Andrew Armacost said it will take time to see how the legislative process plays out.
“I think the idea behind it is a strong one. I think it's an important idea,” he said. “As far as the legislative process, this is my first time going through it, so I don't have a basis to judge what we heard (Wednesday). We'll just have to wait and see. ...”
Armacost said he hasn’t heard a reason why it was taken out of the original proposal. However, it isn’t uncommon for complex bills to undergo numerous changes throughout the session.
The second set of projects being revived would come with North Dakota’s bonding bill.
Earlier this week, Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, introduced an amendment that would bring back a set of higher education and technical education programs, including UND’s proposed space command initiative.
The proposed amendments would include $60 million related to building and equipping technical education centers, $4 million to Dickinson State for its proposed projects and $4 million for UND's space command initiative.
The space command initiative would include money to help bolster UND’s physical presence with dollars for equipment, renovation and a sensitive compartmental information facility.
Armacost has said national security, whether related to research or educational programs, has always been of interest to the university. In recent months, that interest has included potential partnerships related to space security.
Wednesday, he said he was “thrilled” to learn about the amendment and said the partnership would be beneficial for UND, its students and the state.
“I think it’s a great move and will really allow us to jumpstart some infrastructure changes to UND that will allow better support of space education and also space research,” he said.
Last week, legislators discussed the original removal of the space command initiative from the bonding bill, questioning whether higher education leaders’ adherence to a set list of capital projects had hurt UND’s prospects of attracting a partnership with the U.S. Space Force.
In total, Wardner’s amendment would add $180 million in funding for infrastructure , renovations and other areas to the bonding bill. The North Dakota House already approved a $680 million bonding bill last month; Wardner’s amendment would bring the bonding bill’s total to $860 million.