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Bill would use Legacy Fund earnings to help fund research at UND, NDSU

NDSU President Dean Bresciani, left, and UND President Mark Kennedy share a laugh in August 2018 in Grand Forks. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

UND President Mark Kennedy says he is "excited" about a bill backed by legislative leaders that could bolster research and economic development in North Dakota for years to come.

Senate Bill 2282 would transfer 15 percent of Legacy Fund earnings to an economic diversification research fund that would support work by UND and North Dakota State University.

The bill also includes the 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 and the two university presidents, as well as four others.

Legacy Fund earnings are not available until after the biennium ends, however, a $45 million loan structure through the Bank of North Dakota is also built into the bill. The Legacy Fund was approved by voters in 2010 and uses a portion of oil and gas-related taxes to create a "rainy day" fund for the state.

This fall Kennedy and NDSU President Dean Bresciani spent time traveling the state speaking about the importance of research for economic diversification in North Dakota. They had originally proposed that the state invest $100 million in research at the two campuses, with each school getting $25 million a year.

Kennedy said that while the bill isn't exactly what he and Bresciani spent time speaking about across the state, it is a step in the right direction.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Ronald Sorvaag, R-Fargo, has the backing of Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, and Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, in the Senate. In the House, Majority Leader Chet Pollert, R-Carrington, Rep. Jon Nelson, R-Rugby, and Rep. Karla Rose Hanson, D-Fargo, also support the bill.

Kennedy said having the backing of leaders of both houses and support from the western part of the state is "absolutely vital" for the bill going forward.

"It elevates the seriousness of this topic and conversation and gives credibility to the fact (research) truly can provide the kind of economic diversity and future vitality that we're looking forward," Kennedy said.

Sorvaag said the bill is an investment of the future for the state.

"I don't look at it as spending money. It's investing money," he said.

Sorvaag added that if the state is "going to continue to diversify and strengthen" its agriculture and energy sectors and grow in other areas, giving dollars to the state's research universities is important.

Holmberg said the bill will have an "upward climb" because there are so many competing interests for Legacy Fund earnings, but he believes the two presidents have already put in a lot of effort on the topic and deserve to be listened to.

"They deserve to have the opportunity to come here and make the case and convince the Legislature that this is where money should be spent," Holmberg said.

The bill is set for a hearing at the end of the month.

Sydney Mook

Sydney Mook has been covering higher education at the Grand Forks Herald since May 2018. She previously served as the multimedia editor and cops, courts and health reporter at the Dickinson Press from January 2016 to May 2018.  She graduated from the University of South Dakota with a bachelor's degree in journalism and political science in three and half years in December 2015. While at the USD, she worked for the campus newspaper, The Volante, as well as the television news show, Coyote News. She also interned at South Dakota Public Broadcasting and spent the summer before her senior year interning in Fort Knox for the ROTC Cadet Summer Training program. In her spare time, Sydney enjoys cheering on the New York Yankees and the Kentucky Wildcats, as well as playing golf. If you've got an idea for a video be sure to give her a call!

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