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Published April 27, 2011, 03:40 PM

ND Lawmakers Finish $646 Million Higher Ed Budget

The North Dakota House approved a $646 million budget for the state university system Wednesday night, despite complaints that it no longer set aside money to limit student tuition increases during the next two years.

By: Associated Press,

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — The North Dakota House approved a $646 million budget for the state university system Wednesday night, despite complaints that it no longer set aside money to limit student tuition increases during the next two years.

House members voted 69-23 in favor of the budget, which spends $30 million more on higher education than the amount they supported in February. The Senate will review the legislation Thursday, when the Legislature is likely to finish its work.

A panel of negotiators from the House and Senate agreed on the plan earlier Wednesday and combined so-called "equity" money paid to colleges that get less money than similar schools in other states — with dollars meant to offset tuition increases. Both initiatives were lumped into a $15.2 million pool.

Rep. Mark Dosch, R-Bismarck, said the change will let schools spend more without keeping down the cost of attendance, and Rep. Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks, agreed.

Dosch said the amount of state dollars going to higher education has increased sharply over the past decade, while tuition rates have risen even faster.

"Just as we are concerned about binge drinking by our college students on campuses, we should be equally concerned with the binge spending on higher ed," Dosch said.

The budget includes $12.5 million to build an information technology building in Grand Forks that will house offices and the university system's data storage. It gives $10 million to renovate Bisek Hall, which is home to the diesel technology program at the state College of Science in Wahpeton.

Minot State University would receive $5 million to install a geothermal heating system, and Bismarck State University will get $3.3 million to finish construction on the fourth floor of the National Energy Center of Excellence.

The bill instructs North Dakota State University to use money it received the past four years to finish the renovation of Minard Hall. It did not include an $8 million project, which the House endorsed earlier, to renovate the Old Main building at the College of Science.

The final budget spends 8.2 percent more than the past two years and $2.6 million less than what Gov. Jack Dalrymple recommended.

"We struggled extremely hard to find that money," said Rep. Bob Skarphol, R-Tioga, who headed the conference committee on the bill, referring to reductions in the governor's preferred spending levels. "The Senate was very determined that what they had done is the right thing to do, and we did the best we could to reduce the budget."

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