The North Dakota Board of Higher Education has approved its next two-year budget, and the Legislature will have plenty to discuss when the next session begins in?January.
Board members are asking for a 16 percent increase in general fund spending, which would put the university system's budget at nearly $700 million, as well as $146 million for campus projects. The budget proposal includes 410 million to help universities in western North Dakota deal with impacts from the oil industry.
But perhaps no portion of the budget will garner as much legislative attention as the proposal to increase the university system's staff from 26 employees to 56 employees, including two new lawyers, six auditors and three compliance officers. New chancellor Ham Shirvani said even with the increase, the N.D. system would still have fewer staff members than Montana or South?Dakota, and that the positions are needed to do the "essential, bare minimum work."
We'll go on record right now and predict that the Legislature will not approve the doubling of the university system staff. The system has for years faced criticism from lawmakers about being too large and too expensive already, and adding 30 new staff positions is sure to draw the ire of plenty of legislators.
It also troubles us that Shirvani is asking for roughly $8 million to fund the 30 new positions, yet the budget proposal includes only slightly more ($10 million) to help western North Dakota campuses combat the effects of the booming oil industry. Those priorities seem a bit skewed to us, and lawmakers will surely be asking plenty of questions come January.
Certainly we understand the budget proposal is a starting point, but already there are serious changes necessary.