Higher-ed budget tension boils over at an interim Legislative committee

Jun 6, 2018

Complaints that the Board of Higher Education did little to fight for fewer budget cuts in the 2017 Legislature boiled over again during a Legislative interim committee meeting this week.

The interim Higher Education committee met in Mayville and Grand Forks.

At a recent Board meeting, some faculty and staff at the state’s colleges and universities made that assertion. Funding for the University System was cut more than 20 percent.

Gov. Doug Burgum has again suggested another 10 to 13 percent cut.

Rep. Bob Martinson (R-Bismarck) is a member of the Committee. He was critical of the Board and the Chancellor.

"They (the Board) did nothing last session to fight for funding," Martinson said. "In the House, we asked whomever was the Board president was, 'Did you come here today to ask for more money, or do you support the Governor's cuts?' The answer was, 'We support the Governor's cuts.'"

Martinson said that made it difficult for supporters of higher education to try and get more money.

In response, Board president Don Morton said the Board and the Chancellor’s staff have had some “very productive” behind the scenes discussions with Burgum and his staff, including the new budget director Joe Morrisette.

"Do you want us to get into a public food fight?" Morton said. "That doesn't seem to do us any good."

That prompted this back-and-forth between Morton and Martinson.

'"We get into food fights all the time," Martinson said.

"Good for you, Bob -- you're good at it," Morton shot back.

"If you don't fight for higher education, who's going to?" Martinson replied.

"Who says we're not?" Morton said. "Are you in those meetings that we've had? Those private meetings? Do you know what's being done?"

The board’s faculty adviser, Birgit Pruess of NDSU, told the Committee she’s heard from faculty who say they will leave, if they have to go another biennium without pay raises.