Facing fights over tuition and building priorities, a coalition of students, staff and supporters of Oregon State University-Cascades came to Salem Thursday to get a jump-start on lobbying for the upcoming legislative session.
“I thought it was a very successful day,” said Janie Teater, founder of the campus support group Now4OSU-Cascades. “It was impressive that students took the time — school is over, finals are over. One student delayed going home to Panama. They understand what’s at stake.”
The nine students and the others fanned out in small groups to meet with lawmakers from around the state to push two messages: Keep tuition in check and find $12 million in the state’s higher education capital construction budget for the proposed Student Success Center at the Bend campus. OSU-Cascades students are paying a portion of their fees to finance $5 million of the project.
All of Oregon’s public universities face possible steep tuition hikes and program cutbacks under a budget proposal submitted by Gov. Kate Brown.
Funding for Oregon’s seven, four-year universities would essentially remain at current levels, a move administrators say could mean tuition increases of 5 percent or more. Any additional funding would have to come from unspecified future taxes or cuts to other funding areas.
OSU-Cascades faces the additional challenge that the current official list of higher education building and construction proposals ranks the Student Success Center as a low priority.
Brown’s capital budget proposal emphasizes renovation of existing buildings over new buildings.
Though Brown did not include any OSU-Cascades construction money in her budget, her proposal sets aside $225 million in bonds that could be doled out to unspecified projects in 2020.
“That adds uncertainty,” said Reilly King, president of the Associated Students of Cascades Campus. “We will have to change our narrative to focus on the need for some of those funds when they become available.”
King said that a campus meeting will be held during the upcoming winter term to find out what students specifically want in the building, which could include counseling centers, activities and other support facilities.
“That way we can go back to the legislators with a clear picture of what it is we are asking for,” she said.
Rep. Denyc Boles, R-Salem, was among those lobbied. She has some first-hand knowledge about the campus: Her son, Michael, is a sophomore at OSU-Cascades.
“I think it is important for us as a state to look at that campus and invest in it,” Boles said. “It hits a different group of kids. It is a big game changer for the Central Oregon. It’s in a place that is changing and growing so quickly and where a lot of innovation is going on.”
Boles said Brown’s capital budget emphasis on renovation was unfair to OSU-Cascades.
“It’s a new campus — there’s nothing to renovate,” she said.
Becky Johnson, vice-president of OSU-Cascades, said the lobbying effort was a two-way street. Students and their supporters made their pitch and heard back from lawmakers about the overall budget situation.
“The legislators we spoke with support higher education in general and know the need for basic construction,” Johnson said. “Now, there is always the caveat that there are never enough resources for all the things we want to do. The students learned about the fiscal situation facing the state.”
That situation includes Brown’s ambitious spending plans for K-12 education and health care.
The supplemental budget, which includes more funding for higher education, would require more revenue in the form of taxes.
Tax ideas proposed as “concepts” in recent days include higher corporate taxes, redirecting the “kicker” tax rebate to education, property tax reform and even a tax on plastic bags.
For now, all the “concepts” are just ideas — bills can’t be introduced until the Legislature convenes on Jan. 22.
“A lot of them were saying it’s early, that they were just getting their first look at the budget,” said King, the student government president. “But it was good timing to start putting the message in their ear about the Student Success Center and tuition affordability.”
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