For Immediate Release
AUGUSTA - Maine's smaller state universities will share in applied research funds provided annually by the Legislature, ending a 15-year practice that saw virtually all research money go to the University of Maine at Orono and the University of Southern Maine.
Under a bill passed April 12 by the Maine House and Senate, the U-Maine System's five smaller campuses will receive a share of the $14.7 million appropriated every year to the Maine Economic Improvement Fund (MEIF). Those schools include the U-Maine campuses at Machias, Fort Kent, Presque Isle, Augusta and Farmington.
Rep. Dianne Tilton (R-Harrington) was the sponsor of the bill, LD 1885, "An Act To Amend the Laws Pertaining to the Maine Economic Improvement Fund." She was joined by two cosponsors from Washington County - Senate President Kevin Raye and Rep. David Burns, of Whiting.
Rep. Tilton said spreading the applied research wealth with the smaller schools is long overdue. "From the time the MEIF was formed in 1997, until 2008, all the money, more than $115 million, was used by the two largest schools," she said. "For all those years, despite repeated appeals, the small campuses were disregarded when it came time to allocate MEIF funds."
In 2009, she introduced legislation which sought to distribute 3 percent of MEIF funds among the rural campuses. That measure failed, but the U-Maine System chancellor, on his own, established a Small Campus Initiative, which made $100,000 available for the five small schools in 2009, 2010 and 2011.
That amount will statutorily increase beginning July 1, 2013, when the five smaller schools will share 2.5 percent of the money, which works out to about $370,000. Two years later, on July 1, 2015, the amount increases to 3 percent, or roughly $440,000.
"This is not a great deal of money when divided among five universities," Rep. Tilton said. "However, it is important for these smaller, often rural campuses because a guaranteed stream of MEIF money will enable them to leverage outside funding."
According to Rep. Tilton, businesses and entrepreneurs in rural areas are more apt to partner with small campuses, when applied research is needed, than with a large but distant school. She notes, for example, that the Downeast Institute for Applied Research and Education on Beals Island is affiliated with the University of Maine at Machias.
Rep. Tilton also said directing some of the MEIF resources to the smaller schools could fight the problem of "brain drain." As she explained it, "Scientists should not be cut off from research dollars, which the taxpayers provide, simply because they choose to live, teach and conduct research in the area where they were born and raised. In a small but important way, this can help plug brain drain from some of our most rural campuses."
Rep. Tilton said she believes firmly in the power of applied research to fuel- innovation. MEIF money is targeted to seven areas of strategic economic importance and potential, such as aquaculture and marine sciences, biotechnology, information technology, precision manufacturing, composites and advanced materials, environmental technologies and advanced technologies for forestry and agriculture. ###
Maine House Republicans
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