MINOT, N.D. — I’ve been writing about higher education for a long time, and when it comes to budgets and how our state’s universities react to them, there are two simple truths.

Any budget increase will be treated as a cut because it wasn’t as large an increase as the universities requested.

Any actual cut will be treated as armageddon.

As a starting point for pandemic-era budgeting — the 2021 legislative session begins in January — Gov. Doug Burgum asked the universities to cut 10% from their budgets.

The folks in higher education say this will hurt their ability to provide academic services, which is what they always say when their budget is getting cut, or just not getting increased as much as they’d like.

“It more than likely would result in some academic programs (being eliminated), reductions in student services,” North Dakota University System Vice Chancellor Tammy Dolan told an interim legislative committee this week.

To be fair to our friends in the university system, who are generally good people despite their myopia on fiscal matters, they really have seen some steep cuts in recent budget cycles, but those reductions have been a climbdown from an absurd and utterly irresponsible explosion in appropriations during the revenue-rich heights of the oil boom.

From the 2009-11 to 2013-15 budget cycles, general fund appropriations to higher education ballooned from $593.4 to $910.6 million, a more than 53% increase.

Why? Good question.

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