SALEM — Oregon State University-Cascades supporters came to the Capitol on Friday to make a pitch for $39 million in state bonds to keep the expansion of the new campus on track.
“We’re on a rocket ship in Bend — we’re building it as it takes off,” said Katy Brooks, president of the Bend Chamber of Commerce. “We already have private investment waiting in the wings. We’re in desperate need to help this rocket ship keep going.”
The rocket-like economic growth of Central Oregon makes a four-year university in Central Oregon crucial to the regional economy, said Amy Tykeson, of the group Now 4 OSU-Cascades.
“We will be at capacity by 2020,” she said. “Waiting until 2019 for funds will result in us being two years too late.”
In a show of unity, seven public university presidents signed an all-for-one-and-one-for-all letter to top state lawmakers, asking that the Legislature approve bonds for OSU-Cascades, the University of Oregon, Eastern Oregon University and Southern Oregon University.
That unity will be tested if lawmakers come up with a final bond figure that is below the requests and have to pick winners and losers from among the coalition.
In addition, several municipalities, law enforcement agencies and irrigation districts testified they needed a piece of the bonds from the general fund or the lottery.
“We have a lot of people asking for money and not a lot of money to give,” said Sen. Fred Girod, R-Stayton, who co-chaired the meeting.
Before the presentation by OSU-Cascades supporters, Rep. Gene Whisnant, R-Sunriver, chimed, half-jokingly, “I endorse — beg — for this money, for this request.”
Whisnant later pointed out that there had been doubts about the viability of Portland State University at one time, but student demand showed it was a wise investment by the state.
“Where would we be without PSU?” Whisnant said. “I think we are in the same place with OSU-Cascades.”
House Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland, a member of the committee, endorsed the idea of a four-year university in Central Oregon. Other committee members were non-committal or expressed concern about the overall level of bonding debt.
No vote was taken on allocations. A work session for the bill will be held before the Legislature adjourns in about two weeks.
The hearing was the latest development in what has been a roller-coaster ride for OSU-Cascades and its backers.
Before the 2017 session, Oregon lawmakers asked for $69 million for the expansion of OSU-Cascades. Gov. Kate Brown asked for $20 million in her budget proposal. Lawmakers and school officials expected the final figure would be somewhere in-between. Instead, the final budget allocated just $9.5 million for OSU-Cascades. Campus officials and supporters expressed shock at the low amount.
OSU-Cascades supporters were gratified when Brown in December called for $88 million in supplemental funding: $39 million for OSU-Cascades, $40 million for a science center at the University of Oregon and $9million for a new field house at Eastern Oregon University.
Complicating matters was an emergency request from Southern Oregon University for $2.5 million to replace an aging boiler on the campus.
Concerned the schools might be pitted against each other in a fight over the money, the presidents of the seven public universities in Oregon issued an open letter to legislative leaders on Thursday evening.
The message from the Oregon Council of Presidents called for full funding of the four projects — including Southern Oregon’s — which all together would cost $90.5 million.
“We stand together today, to support investment in the four projects referred to in this letter in order to promote educational opportunities in a safe environment for Oregonians,” the group wrote.
“As the Legislature considers the allocation of Oregon’s bonding capacity, we hope you will consider the valuable return that Oregon sees on its capital investments in higher education and the unique nature of higher education’s infrastructure.”
The presidents signing the letter were Edward Ray, Oregon State University; Michael Schill, University of Oregon; Thomas Insko, Eastern Oregon University; Linda Schott, Southern Oregon University; Rahmat Shoureshi, Portland State University; Rex Fuller, Western Oregon University; and Nagi Naganathan, Oregon Institute of Technology.
— Reporter: 541-525-5280, gwarner@bendbulletin