Our governor has rolled out a very small stimulus proposal for our lagging state economy and the state’s oldest University. IGEM stands for Idaho Global Entrepreneurial Mission. It is an attempt to transfer technology developments from the state research centers (Universities, INL and CAES) to businesses who want to develop such innovations. There will be taxpayer money in a fund in the Department of Commerce that is directed by a board dominated by industry representatives to support development of selected technologies, matching them with capital and management in private industry. There will be intellectual property agreements between the state institutions and private industry that define the ownership and thus returns from such transfers. A bill we recently passed defines most of this.
Some of the money that comes from such developments will come back to the state and the fostering institutions, based on agreements between the board and private developers. So the University of Idaho supports this. I do too. I just want the relationships to be clear.
There was another recent public-private deal with the University of Idaho. The Idaho Wheat Commission set up an endowment in conjunction with LimaGrain, a French seed cooperative for wheat research at the University of Idaho Department of Agricultural sciences. The wheat farmers agreed to increase their own assessment (what they pay per bushel) to fund this. We had to pass a bill to allow this. It got quite a bit of push back from some Senators thinking we should not be raising taxes, even though it was the wheat farmers themselves that proposed this. I imagine there may be some wheat growers that think they shouldn’t pay more to the Wheat Commission. But we were told there was broad support. In the bill that raised the assessment there were new provisions for removing commissioners, I suppose just in case there was a revolt of wheat farmers against the increased assessment.
I cite these two examples of how our University is creatively dealing with the lack of funding support it is getting from the Legislature. I’m not even going to mention the Board of Education and the flagship issue.
Here’s the trend for funding in Idaho over the last seventeen years.
Notice both K-12 and higher Ed are being outstripped by Health and Welfare and Corrections spending and their clear downward trend in the last 4 years. I worry that our state is not investing properly in our future, and we are looking elsewhere for this support. Nothing is free. We will pay in some way. I want to keep this issue in front of our legislature. If we value it, shouldn’t we be supporting it?
Earlier in the session I got reminded by a constituent that I sit in the seat of J.W. Brigham, the first state Senator from Latah County. He was the youngest man in the Territorial Council or Senate and pushed through the University of Idaho into the Constitution. Without the University there is no doubt our town, our county would be very different. I will work to keep the value of the University before this legislature.