ND Emergency Commission Should Support Fund Transfer for ROTC Scholarships

The North Dakota Emergency Commission will convene at 4 PM in the Capitol today. One of the items on their agenda is to consider transferring money to ensure National Guard students in college on ROTC scholarships are fully funded. The request is under $600,000 to fund the scholarship throughout the remainder of the biennium. The Commission should unanimously approve this transfer today.

The scholarship program has been a successful recruitment tool for the National Guard. We increasingly ask more of our Guard members, whether it is natural disaster assistance, overseas deployments, or border security visits, they show up to work. The least we can do as a state is upholding our word and commitment to provide members with resources to achieve higher education.

According to reports, the funding shortfall was created by a combination of tuition increases and a decline in federal support. The situation has politicians passing the blame onto others. In North Dakota, state tuition assistance is the primary funding source. Tuition at our colleges and universities has continued to rise over the years. Unsurprisingly, legislators adamantly avoid responsibility for that rise.

State Senator Ray Holmberg, Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee and member of the Emergency Commission, said: “tuition increases are beyond both the Guard and Legislature’s control.” Holmberg is completely accurate in his assessment of the Guard. He is stretching in terms of the Legislature’s role on tuition. The Legislature does have a direct role in higher education. What they do and don’t do in Bismarck impacts tuition across the state. Over recent years, the Legislature has cut funding for North Dakota Higher Education. Those cuts leave the colleges and universities looking elsewhere to make up the shortfall. Where do you think they make up the difference? Often times increase in tuition.

The Legislature doesn’t directly set tuition rates, but they still impact tuition. This is the same swift wording and political spin lawmakers have used when talking about property tax increases. Sure, the Legislature doesn’t levy property taxes directly, but what they decide in Bismarck impacts local governments. They should not get a pass on their responsibility in the increase in property taxes nor their role in funding higher education.

As for Federal policy changes, where is Governor Doug Burgum, Senator-elect Kevin Cramer, and Senator John Hoeven? They claim they have the ear of the White House and a cozy relationship with the President. If true, what good is it if they don’t get the job done?

The Emergency Commission is made up of the Governor, Secretary of State, the majority leaders in both legislative chambers, and the appropriations chair of each chamber. It is not entirely clear who will be present at today’s meeting. The House Majority Leader of this current biennium, Al Carlson, lost his reelection bid. Following Carlson’s defeat, House Republicans rushed to elect their new leadership for the upcoming session. They chose Chet Pollert. It seems likely that Pollert will be at the table today and not Al Carlson.

North Dakota has the approximate $560,000 the National Guard is requesting. Throughout the campaign, Republican leadership and candidates made election year payout promises to fund infrastructure in eastern North Dakota to the tune of $280 million. Certainly, they could find resources for the young adults of the National Guard utilizing the scholarship program. To ensure the Commission makes the right decision today, consider contacting its members to tell them what you think they should do.

Tyler Axness