BISMARCK, N.D. - Two bills that revolutionize higher education funding and rebuff a Senate effort to buy out the contract of the chancellor passed the North Dakota House on Wednesday.
One of them also calls for construction of a pedestrian skywalk in downtown Bismarck.
Both are headed for a showdown between House and Senate conference committees over differences that range from funding totals to spending on campus construction projects.
“Unless we have some differences, we have no room to negotiate in conference (committee), said Rep. Bob Skarphol, R-Tioga, chairman of the education and environment subsection of the House Appropriations Committee.
The House passed Senate Bill 2200 by a vote of 66-27. It converts the higher education funding formula to a performance-based model in which funding is determined by credit hours completed rather than by student enrollment.
The appropriations bill, SB2003, allocates $1.057 billion to fund the higher education system. It passed 60-33.
A late addition to the bill was a $750,000 appropriation to build a skywalk across Seventh Street in Bismarck to provide safe passage for pedestrians walking from the University of North Dakota Family Practice Center to Sanford Health.
Skarphol said the project was proposed by Sanford, which offered to match the state’s contribution to remedy a dangerous situation for pedestrians.
“Traffic has gotten treacherous,” Skarphol said. “We figured if the private sector was willing to put that kind of money up, they would ensure that it was done in an appropriate way.”
The House also removed an $854,000 appropriation that the Senate funded to buy out the contract of North Dakota University System Chancellor Hamid Shirvani.
The buyout was proposed by Shirvani critics who hoped to encourage the Board of Higher Education to replace him, but the board has not indicated it would use the money even if it was appropriated.
Central to Wednesday’s debate on the House floor was funding for campus building projects that have been recommended by the governor and approved by the Senate.
The House Appropriations Committee removed funding for specific projects and instead established a $170 million pool from which all the projects would be funded.
With more than $220 million in projects on the table, Grand Forks legislators argued fervently for putting money back in.
Most importantly, said Rep. Eliott Glassheim, D-Grand Forks, is the need for $124 million to build a new medical school at the University of North Dakota.
He argued that the project is a good value for the university and important for a state that is desperate for health care providers.
Also on the campus building list is $29.6 million for a new building at North Dakota State University, $12.5 million for renovations of the UND law school, $12.2 million for new construction at Williston State College, and smaller projects elsewhere.
Skarphol said he fully expects a conference committee to make modifications to the building fund program, but the House Appropriations Committee favored a master plan of priorities.
“We’re just trying to get the best value for our dollars,” he said. “We don’t need Taj Mahals. If we don’t put some pressure on them to be judicious, they’ll build whatever they can get away with.”
Overall, the higher education funding bill is about $34 million below the governor’s recommendation.
Glassheim said funding below the governor’s budget is not sufficient, and an inflation factor allowing increases of 1 percent a year is not enough for campuses to keep up.
He also questioned provisions that could result in student tuition increases of up to 4.5 percent a year.