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"This is a legacy project"

Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, masterminded some amendments to the governor's office budget that recently passed the House and Senate, amendments that ensure a path for state funding for the operation and maintenance of a propo...

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Rich Wardner

Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, masterminded some amendments to the governor's office budget that recently passed the House and Senate, amendments that ensure a path for state funding for the operation and maintenance of a proposed Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Medora.

That path places some strict requirements on the money, which will only be made available, according to Wardner, once Dickinson is made whole and Dickinson State University, whose digitization of Roosevelt's presidential papers and writings was the impetus for the proposed presidential library, gets much needed financial support.

"To get their hands on those operation and maintenance earnings dollars, they have to deposit ... $10 million at the foundation at Dickinson State University for the digitization of the Theodore Roosevelt presidential papers. It is not for endowment at any place; it is for the heritage foundation at Dickinson State and it can only be used for the digitization and the support of the Theodore Roosevelt Scholars," Wardner said, adding that $300,000 "needs to be paid back to the city of Dickinson. If that doesn't happen, they don't get to use the earnings."

Wardner said that this amounts to a "win-win-win." It ensures everyone has an opportunity to get money, from the city to the university to the library itself.

"At the state level there will be $50 million put into endowment. Only the earnings will be used for the operation and maintenance of the library when it's built. It's got to be built before they can use any of that money. It's not for building," Wardner said. "It's for the operation and maintenance after it has been built."

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This still leaves a challenge of securing about $100 million in private donations or investment, but if and when that money is secured, the school and city will be first in line - and the state still stands to benefit from what Wardner describes as a true legacy project.

"$15 million is cash out of the general fund, out of the ending fund balance of the 2017-18 biennium, that will go into the endowment. There will be $35 million that will be laying at the bank of North Dakota ... the Bank of North Dakota has nothing to do with it, we've just borrowed the money and we'll pay the bank off when the time is right," Wardner said. "For all practical purposes this is a legacy project. This is a legacy project!"

So why was the framework for providing state funding to the presidential library project pushed through as amendments attached to the governor's budget? Wardner explained that the Senate has voted twice on the library, and previous attempts to pass it had run aground in the House.

"There's a problem in the process. When it's in a budget bill and it comes up on the floor of the House, you have to reject the conference committee, they can't amend ... neither of us can when they come out of conference committee," Wardner said. "The House wanted a straight-up bill. We put it in a straight-up bill; it was (House Bill) 1320. The Senate did it. We did everything to accommodate the House, but guess what? It gets over there and the speaker says it's not 'germane.'"

Wardner said that was because the amendments were too different from the original subject matter of the bill, and so he had to find another solution.

"But when you put it on the governor's budget, which now we went back to, something very similar to what we had before. Now it was amended into the governor's budget and it was ... germane," Wardner said. "So when it came up on the House, first of all it came up on the Senate floor and we passed it again ... if they would have not passed the conference committee report we would have had to take it back and strip out the library. But it passed! We are shocked by the margin of victory ... then they passed the governor's budget and away it went."

Wardner said that getting the amendments passed was relatively painless and there were no real challenges to them.

"Everybody understood. I think there was a little bit of sympathy that (the library) was pulled out of Dickinson, so we had that working for us," Wardner said. "And it was the right thing to do."

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Erik Johnson, digital library coordinator and archivist at DSU, said they were pleased to see that they were to receive support.

"That's excellent. It's very encouraging, and we're happy to have the support," Johnson said.

Related Topics: RICH WARDNER
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