University researchers look to state for research funding

The Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources hopes to fund several University projects aimed at improving the environment.

University researchers look to state for research funding

A state commission is recommending that lawmakers dole out more than $13 million to University of Minnesota researchers as part of a larger funding request.

In its annual budget recommendation, the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources said it would like to allocate about $45 million next legislative session to projects and research with the goal of improving the state’s environment.

The University hopes to receive nearly 30 percent of the commission’s funding when the plans are brought to the Legislature next year.

Anthony D’Amato, a forest resources professor, works for an ongoing project exploring the impact emerald ash borers have on Minnesota’s tree population and potential solutions to the problems.

He said the project, which began with the help of the commission, is seeking resources for its second phase set to last five years.

“I think the state is really fortunate that we have this model, and the University is very fortunate that we have this [commission] as a resource that we can use to fund research,” D’Amato said.

The commission, which funds environmental research projects sponsored by organizations throughout the state, comprises both legislators and citizens.

Five senators and five representatives sit on the commission alongside seven citizens.

Members of the commission chose 65 of 152 proposed projects to bring to the Legislature in the 2015 session.

To approve the recommended projects, at least 12 of the commission’s members need to support a bill that outlines the funding recommendations.

But legislative support for the bill doesn’t mean every project will receive funding. Legislators can still adjust which projects will be approved and how much they will receive.

Most funding for the commission’s proposed projects originates from the state’s Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund.

Forty percent of the net proceeds generated from the Minnesota State Lottery feed the fund. The state invests that money to grow it.

During years the stock market isn’t doing well, the commission has fewer resources to back projects, said Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the University can get up to 60 percent of the money the commission recommends, said Tomassoni, a commission co-chair.

Out of the commission’s $45 million in recommended projects, the University has asked for more than $13 million to help with research.

A University research center focusing on terrestrial invasive species is the most costly project on the commission’s plan.

The center is asking the Legislature for $5 million to support research over eight years. State lawmakers previously awarded $4.8 million in general funding to establish the center last spring.

As completely eradicating invasive species is unlikely, the center will focus on adaptation strategies and reducing the environmental and economic impact of invasive species, said Brian Buhr, dean of the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences.

If the recommendations are approved, the University research center could appropriate money for 10 to 12 projects on invasive species, like the one D’Amato is a part of, Buhr said. That would reduce the number of projects that need to go to the commission directly for financing during the legislative session, he said.

“We’re not waiting, necessarily, for the LCCMR funding,” Buhr said. “Of course, if we don’t get the LCCMR funding, that will really narrow down what we can do with those general funds.”

D’Amato said the resources the commission allocated for his project helped researchers secure money from additional sources.

Tomassoni said the state Legislature will change who sits on the commission from the House next legislative session, and possibly how many projects are approved.

“It’s all relative to how they look at the projects and whether or not they believe they should be funded or if the money should be used for something else,” Tomassoni said.