This week, reporter Bob Mercer declared that Governor Mike Rounds's effort to realize Bill Janklow's vision of converting the Homestake mine into a world-class research facility would be recognized as the greatest achievement of the Rounds administration. In a November 12 blog post, blogger Pat Powers pointed to the Sanford Underground Laboratory in Lead as "Mike Rounds' one crowning achievement."
The biggest jewel in Rounds's legacy crown may have just fallen out. Last week the National Science Board decided to ax a $29-million grant that the National Science Foundation it oversees had authorized for the Sanford Lab last year. The National Science Board had lots of good things to say about the lab when they visited in September, But now board member Mark Abbott says the Department of Energy, other agencies, and perhaps international sources should fund the project instead of NSF.
The Governor has spent "countless hours on the phone" with Washington trying to fix this funding flop. Losing those funds would be bad for the lab, even in the short-term. Governor Rounds says at the very least, the scientists at the lab need steady funding for job security. Ron Wheeler, director of the South Dakota Science and Technology Authority that runs the lab, told legislators last month "We're not looking for the (South Dakota) taxpayers to cover any more expenses for the authority."
The Governor already had to cajole the Legislature to approve $5.4 million in additional funding last winter to keep the lab afloat until the NSF funding was anticipated to arrive in May 2011. The disappearance of that NSF funding could create an ugly political situation in a legislature already being asked to cut K-12 education 5%.
Significant as this decision is, it is thus surprising that Governor Rounds made no mention of it during is budget address on Tuesday. His budget proposal includes a $10.6M reduction in the Science and Tech Authority in anticipation of the NSF grant:
The total recommended FY2012 budget for the South Dakota Science and Technology Authority is $8,960,000 in other fund expenditure authority and 5.0 FTE. A decrease of $10,639,023 in other fund expenditure authority and 65.0 FTE is being recommended because the National Science Foundation (NSF) is expected to take over the Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory (DUSEL) operations in the spring of 2011 [State of South Dakota Governor's Budget: Fiscal Year 2012, p. 47].
The National Science Board met December 1&ndash2. Governor Rounds presented his budget December 7. It seems odd that the Governor would not address a significant budget setback for a project so important to South Dakota's educational and economic development, not to mention the Governor's "legacy."
I share the Governor's desire to see this project go forward. I sincerely hope that this governor's greatest legacy may be a facility for the eggheads and intellectuals who too often get short-shrift in South Dakota culture.
But if the Legislature and South Dakota taxpayers aren't going to be asked to cover the gap again, who's left? We could hit T. Denny Sanford up again... but I have a feeling we're going to enjoy the splendid irony of Republicans John Thune, Kristi Noem, Mike Rounds, and Dennis Daugaard working hard to win more money from Washington, D.C.
While stopping all the tax hikes would be a good first step, this alone won't eliminate the job-killing uncertainty hanging over our employers and entrepreneurs.
That's why we need to focus on cutting spending and reducing the size of government. The American people want us to stop spending dollars we don't have.
To do that, we need to start taking a long, hard look at the size and scope of government and find new ways to resist Washington's urge to grow and to grow. Let's do a better job of following the money and evaluating the effectiveness of government agencies [Kristi Noem, GOP radio address, 2010.12.11].
Update 2010.12.13 10:06 CST—Definitely related: Dr. Newquist's discussion of the Homestake Lab. He notes that the NSF may not have been authorized to make the $29-million "commitment" we thought we had for the lab.
Update 2010.12.14 11:30 CST—Mr. Kurtz was an interested party in the mine once.