Editorial: OHSU bond must be balanced against competing state needs

Published Dec 11, 2013 at 12:01AM

If the Oregon Legislature agrees to float a $200 million bond, cancer research at Oregon Health & Science University could benefit by $1 billion.

That’s likely a smart move, but legislators must consider other possible needs for that $200 million in bonding capacity before making the commitment.

The opportunity starts with Nike Chairman Phil Knight and his wife, Penny, who in September pledged $500 million for the OHSU’s Knight Cancer Institute if the university can raise a matching amount in two years. State officials are now talking about helping pay that match with a $200 million contribution from taxpayers.

This week at the Oregon Leadership Summit, OHSU President Joe Robertson sought support for state involvement, according to The Oregonian, saying the state funds would pay for buildings for researchers and clinical trials. He said the university would still raise the full $500 million match, but the state contribution would help speed the process.

Critics complained there’s a long list of other needs in the state, and the matching challenge gives this one proposal an unfair advantage.

Ironically, at the same leadership conference Monday, state leaders were talking about other priorities, with the Columbia River Crossing topping the list for Gov. John Kitzhaber and House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland. Kotek, along with Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem; Senate Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day; and House Minority Leader Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, also listed funding for education and rural economic development among their top priorities.

The rural initiatives would seek to help communities by developing water supplies and increasing logging and other natural resources use, The Oregonian reported. Talk also focused on helping small businesses and creating jobs that pay family wages.

The Knights have been generous donors to many causes in Oregon, including an earlier $100 million for the Knight Cancer Institute at OHSU. Their new pledge, if the match can be made, holds the promise of meaningful advances in cancer treatment that could help patients not just in Oregon but around the nation and world. It’s a worthy investment.

Legislators must, however, determine that it outweighs the multitude of other demands for state bonding capacity and that its celebrity status doesn’t skew those difficult decisions.