UND, NDSU research bill fails in the House
BISMARCK -- The North Dakota House has rejected a bill that would have dedicated a certain percentage of Legacy Fund earnings to the state’s research universities.
The House voted against Senate Bill 2282 Wednesday by a vote of 62-30.
The bill, introduced by Sen. Ron Sorvaag, R-Fargo, would have transferred 15 percent of Legacy Fund earnings to an economic diversification research fund that would support work by UND and NDSU. The fund would have a $45 million cap. The bill passed the Senate with a 43-4 vote but hit a roadblock in the House Appropriations Committee late last week when it received a “do not pass recommendation.”
In a statement to the Herald, UND President Mark Kennedy said the university will continue to make its case for research dollars.
“We would have liked to have had a different outcome today, but we will continue to make our case,” Kennedy said. “We have had a robust and sustained conversation about the importance of research to the state.”
Kennedy said the university will continue to support other research-oriented bills, such as Rep. Mike Nathe’s House Bill 1333, which would create a Legacy Investment Fund for Technology of about $3 million that would support technology advancement in the state. Funding for that program is not limited to the universities.
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.
Kennedy added UND “will continue to press the elements of 2282 in the rest of the biennium and beyond.”
“I believe that continued conversation will bear fruit,” he said.
Kennedy expressed his gratitude to the Valley Prosperity Partnership for “taking the lead in making the case for research funding.”
The VPP has been a driving force behind the bill, bringing Kennedy and NDSU President Dean Bresciani together on the topic last year.
The VPP is an organization dedicated to economic development in the region.
“It was gratifying the past several months to talk with many business leaders from across the state who understand that the work spurred by funding for research would have an impact on North Dakota issues and ultimately help North Dakota diversify its economy through the creation of new businesses and high-paying jobs,” he said.
Kennedy thanked Sorvaag for sponsoring the bill, as well as a list of bill co-sponsors, including Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks; Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson; and Reps. Karla Rose Hanson, Jon Nelson and House Majority Leader Chet Pollert.
All Grand Forks representatives who were present during the session Wednesday voted in favor of the bill.
Nathe, R-Bismarck, spoke against the bill on the House floor Wednesday. He said there are other bills in the Legislature that deal with funding for research that have already passed the House, including House Bill 1333.
Nathe said there are “better” research bills going throughout the Legislature this session.
“We’ve seen bills like this before, we’ve actually passed bills like this before only to turn around and kill them,” Nathe said. “We’ve had questionable results with this type of bill before.”
Rep. Jeff Delzer, R-Underwood, also spoke out against the bill. Delzer is the chair of the House Appropriations committee.
Delzer said it is “premature” to tie up earnings from the Legacy Fund, adding that in four or six years, 15 percent of its earnings could be a large amount of money.
Multiple legislators spoke in favor of the bill, including Rep. Thomas Beadle, R-Fargo, who said the two research universities already receive significantly less funding than many research schools in the country and added the state does not provide very much money for research. He also added the other research bills in the Legislature total less than $2 million.
Beadle noted the House Appropriations Committee looked at other funding mechanisms other than Legacy Fund earnings, such as Bank of North Dakota earnings. However, Beadle said the committee could not come up with an agreeable amended version of the bill.
“We weren’t really able to get the conversation started about making this bill better,” he said.
Hanson, D-Fargo, also spoke in favor of the bill and said the research dollars would help diversify the economy of North Dakota and help UND and NDSU attract more federal dollars for research.
“Research dollars will make North Dakota a national competitor and will help lead to more dollars and talent coming to the state,” she said.
Earlier this week, the universities and VPP co-chair Steve Burian asked the Senate Appropriations Committee to consider adding the bill into the higher education funding bill.
Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, told the Herald he believes the research dollars and the higher education funding bill need to stay separate. Holmberg is the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
“There’s so much going on in the higher education budget that, personally, I’m not that excited or interested in putting another big discussion issue on that budget,” he said.