SALEM — Amid a spartan proposed budget for higher education, Gov. Kate Brown has allocated new construction money for Central Oregon Community College, but pushes back more funding for Oregon State University-Cascades projects for at least a year.
“My understanding is the decision is deferred until 2020,” said OSU-Cascades Vice President Becky Johnson. “That is really different from how it usually happens.”
COCC had requested $8 million for classroom construction at its Redmond campus, and the governor included that amount of bonds in her budget proposal, released Wednesday.
The budget does not include capital construction bond money for OSU-Cascades but notes that all universities would be able to submit plans in February 2020 for an as-yet unallocated $225 million in funds.
The capital construction spending plan was contained in the governor’s overall budget proposal for the Higher Education Coordinating Committee, which oversees most spending by the state’s community colleges and public universities.
The total 2019-21 budget proposal for higher education is just over $2.7 billion in total funds, about a 9 percent decrease from the Legislature’s final 2017-19 budget.
The drop in proposed funding disappointed officials of the state’s seven public universities. The university presidents put out a joint statement late Wednesday noting that the budget would require deep cuts at the schools unless the Legislature approves tax hikes or cuts public employee retirement benefits or health care.
“The governor’s budget provides a stark choice for the Legislature and the people of Oregon: Either force universities to make cuts to academic and student support programs while also raising tuition by double-digits or make college more affordable and accessible through balanced revenue reform and meaningful cost control in areas like retirement and health care.”
Community college presidents also spoke out.
“Our board has worked hard to keep tuition low for our local students, but in this scenario, we would have no choice but to recommend to our board a significant increase in tuition, and/or cuts to programs critical for our students and our region,” said Shirley Metcalf, president of COCC.
The governor’s proposed solution is for the Legislature to find $2 billion in new revenue, of which just under $600 million would go to higher education. Brown has offered no specifics on what taxes or fees she would increase or programs she would cut to reach the goal.
The governor’s $173 million capital construction proposal for state universities includes $65 million for deferred maintenance at all campuses, $75.5 million for a residence hall and land acquisition at Portland State University, $17 million for a residence hall and other work at Eastern Oregon University, $12 million for a wildfire and seismic alert station at the University of Oregon and $3.5 million to renovate dining and services facilities at Western Oregon University.
The proposal adds:
“The governor’s budget reserves $225 million in bonding capacity for Public Universities with the intention that universities return to the (Higher Education Coordinating Committee) by the February 2020 Legislative Session with an updated 10-year strategic capital plan.”
That plan would be the basis of a supplemental funding allocation that could be approved by the Legislature during the “short session” in February and March of 2020.
Johnson said OSU-Cascades has asked for $12 million for a Student Success Center, with students promising to dedicate an additional $5 million in student fees over 30 years.
“It would include space for student services, advising, tutoring, counseling, clubs — everything outside of the classroom,” Johnson said.
The education coordinating committee rankings of projects at all universities puts the OSU-Cascades request near the bottom of the list.
“If we knew the decision was just delayed, that wouldn’t matter since we get the funds at the end of the fiscal year in 2021 anyway,” Johnson said. “But since we don’t know whether we will get it or not, it adds another year of uncertainty.”
The $8 million for the COCC classroom building at the Redmond campus is part of a separate $67.7 million capital construction proposal for community colleges.
The governor’s budget plan is a starting point for negotiations with the Legislature, and numbers can rise and fall between now and when the final 2019-21 budget is approved next summer.
Johnson said Oregon State University officials and lobbyists would likely reach out to lawmakers to try to nail down construction funding for OSU-Cascades.
For OSU-Cascades, it’s another dip in the rollercoaster ride of state funding over the past two years.
In her previous two-year budget, released in November 2016, Brown asked for $20 million for OSU-Cascades. Regional lawmakers introduced legislation asking for $69.5 million. Campus officials were shocked when the final amount approved by the Legislature was just $9.5 million. That was enough for remediation of a pumice mine on the campus and minor building renovations.
Brown and Democratic leaders in the Legislature were criticized for short-changing the fastest-growing university in the state. University officials and regional lawmakers lobbied Brown for more assistance. The governor asked for a supplemental budget during the 2018 session that allocated $39 million for OSU-Cascades, giving a green light to construction of a second academic building. The allocation was approved by the Legislature.
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