SALEM — When a “Christmas tree” of legislative goodies was rolled out in the state Capitol on Monday, the fastest-growing school in the fastest-growing part of the state found nothing but a $9 million lump of pumice in its stocking.
“This morning was a shock,” said Becky Johnson, vice president of Oregon State University-Cascades in Bend. “We just opened up the campus last fall, and now, you have to wonder, what’s the level of support for the campus on the state government level?”
The Legislature announced $1.3 billion in state bonding authority Monday, one of the big end-of-session spending bills nicknamed “Christmas trees” for the goodies and baubles earmarked for favored senators and House members.
There was $100 million to buy the Elliott State Forest, $101 million for a new county courthouse in Portland, $10.7 million for the Roseburg Veterans Home, $5 million for Lane County to buy Eugene’s old city hall and turn it into a courthouse.
All had been on some lawmaker’s wish list at the beginning of the year. In Deschutes County, OSU-Cascades supporters drew up a $69 million request, which local lawmakers took to Salem.
There was disappointment when Gov. Kate Brown asked for only $20 million in her budget. But that was considered the bottom-of-the-barrel number. After all, the OSU-Cascades campus currently has 1,215 students but could grow to as many as 5,000 by 2025. Serious money was needed to keep pace. When state Treasurer Tobias Read visited the campus last month, it seemed auspicious that the official who would sell the bonds was coming by to see the place. Supporters told each other, “just wait for the final number; it will be something in the middle.”
Instead, $9 million.
That means no Student Success Center and no second academic hall. Just enough money to reclaim and restore more of the pumice pit the campus was built near. It also stretches out the building program, making it harder to keep pace with demand. Johnson said $500,000 will likely be spent just borrowing against the bonds so that work can start.
“I would have thought we would get at least what the governor submitted,” said Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend. “This just shows again a level of mismanagement.”
Buehler, a co-sponsor of the original request for $69 million, has been mentioned as a candidate for governor, which means he’d likely run against Brown. Asked if he thought the low allocation for the OSU-Cascades campus had anything to do with his strained relationship with the governor, Buehler said, “I hope not.”
But some political and civic leaders said the process seemed rigged. The majority of the subcommittee that made the bonding decisions were Democrats from the Portland area, Eugene and Salem.
Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, said something other than merit had determined the dollars spent. All of the other campuses are in Democratic-controlled districts of the state. The OSU-Cascades campus is represented in Salem by an all-Republican delegation.
“I do believe politics were involved, and unless the governor is planning on requesting money for the OSU-Cascades campus, she has sent a clear message that Central Oregon is not important to her,” Knopp said.
Adding to the hurt feelings were the millions sent to other universities around the state.
The University of Oregon wants to build a $1 billion science center in cooperation with Nike co-founder Phil Knight. Knight has promised $50 million per year for 10 years, regardless of how much the state and university kick in. Eugene-area lawmakers asked for $100 million to jump-start the project.
Like OSU-Cascades, Gov. Kate Brown lowered the request, to $34 million.
Unlike the Bend project, Monday’s capital budget earmarked more: $50 million.
The university put out a news release that it was “a wonderful start.”
Portland State University received a $36.5 million authorization for work on a Graduate School of Education building. The Oregon Institute of Technology received $38 million for a science hall. Fifteen community colleges received a total of $101 million for building projects.
Ed Ray, president of Oregon State, said he was disappointed at the outcome for OSU-Cascades, which he has advocated be treated as a separate university in terms of funding.
“This has been a session of minimal progress, missed opportunities and unrealized potential,” Ray said Monday
But some Cascades backers pointed to the $29 million the main Oregon State campus in Corvallis received to renovate Cordley, Fairbanks and Gilkey halls. Another $9 million would build the Quality Foods and Beverage Center. That is a total of $38 million for Corvallis, $9 million for Cascades.
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