Share story

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — Some North Dakota Board of Higher Education members said Thursday they are unhappy with spending cuts proposed for the next two-year budget by Gov. Doug Burgum, who has called for a leaner and more efficient state government.

University system Chief Financial Officer Tammy Dolan told the board at its monthly meeting that Burgum’s proposal could result in $66 million in cuts to the state’s 11 public colleges and universities. That includes about $25 million at the University of North Dakota and $17 million at North Dakota State University

Board members Mike Ness, of Hazen, and Casey Ryan, of Grand Forks, said Burgum’s suggestions are unacceptable on top of the $106 million reduction in the last budget bill.

“This time it’s really going to dig deep,” Ness said. “It’s going to take a lot of personnel out and it’s going to take major programs out of our system. I don’t think we as a board should just accept that like we did last legislative session and say, ‘Well that’s OK, we’ll live within our means.'”

Ryan said if the recommendations stand they would hurt plans to move the state’s two research universities to a higher level.

“I would tell you there is no way that’s going to happen if those budget cuts go through,” he said.

Burgum said in a statement to The Associated Press that his budget guidelines are the first step in a long strategic planning process. He said he’ll work with all parties on a budget “that continues to invest strongly in our higher education institutions while reflecting the ongoing revenue climate and the need to respond to new forms of delivery and competition in higher education.”

Ryan said while he respects the governor and knows there will be “give and take” in the budget process, he believes the board should be aggressive in “pushing what we see as the best agenda” for the higher education system.

The higher education budget plan is due to the Office of Management and Budget at the end of August. Board chair Don Morton, of Fargo, said the group should “plan for the worst and hope for the best” in a state that has been through the ups and downs of oil and commodity prices.

“Not that we want to get in a fight with the governor. I don’t know if that serves any purpose,” Morton said. “Let’s react but let’s not overreact.”

Board member Kevin Melicher, of Fargo, said it could be time for the board “to take the bull by the horn” and start finding ways to raise money on its own and not rely strictly on the Legislature.