Oregon House OKs community college, university budgets

Oregon State Capitol
Oregon State Capitol

By Peter Wong
Statesman Journal

The Oregon House voted today to approve budgets containing more than $1 billion for Oregon’s 17 community colleges and state universities in the next two years.

Despite the amounts, community college and state universities have or are likely to raise tuition, which accounts for an increasing share of the financial burden.

Both budgets go to the Senate.

The budget for the Department of Community Colleges and Workforce Development passed on a 58-0 vote. It contains $450 million in aid, up from the $429 million originally requested by Gov. John Kitzhaber. The budget is higher because it contains money for other programs.

It’s still less than the $500 million lawmakers approved back in 2007, when community college enrollments were 30 percent less than they are today. Enrollments, however, have been leveling off at some community colleges, including Chemeketa.

Chemeketa has raised its overall tuition and fees by $6 per credit hour, from $90 to $96, starting with summer term.

“They have done an outstanding job of making ends meet with little revenue,” said Rep. Betty Komp, D-Woodburn, the co-chairwoman of the Legislature’s education budget subcommittee.

The state university money passed on a 48-12 vote, with opposition from both Democrats and Republicans that it was not enough.

The state’s direct contribution to the seven universities is $744.5 million, about the same as Kitzhaber proposed. The amount includes bond repayments on past projects; new projects, including a proposed College of Education replacement at Western Oregon University, will be in a separate bill.

The budget cancels cuts that Kitzhaber had proposed in statewide services run by Oregon State University, such as the county-based extension service and agricultural and forestry research.

“It is not enough,” said Rep. Sherrie Sprenger, R-Scio, the budget’s floor manager. “But it is what we have before us.”

But Rep. Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland, said it does little to move toward Oregon’s goal of having 80 percent of high school graduates move on to some form of college by 2025. He said the only way to do it was with more money.

“The other way is to stick it under your pillow and hope the tooth fairy delivers it,” Greenlick said. “We have chosen the latter way of dealing with the problem.”

The overall budget for universities is greater, but after lawmakers gave the system more autonomy two years ago, tuition and other sources are excluded from the state budget.

The Board of Higher Education is scheduled to act Friday on tuition and fee increases for the seven universities. For Oregon State University, undergraduate tuition and fees for 15 credit hours would go up 4.5 percent to $8,502, and for the University of Oregon, 5.8 percent to $9,852. Western Oregon University tuition and fees are on two scales: 3.4 percent increase for the base rate, 7 percent increase for new entrants in a four-year promise program, which guarantees the same rate for four years.

“Our students are bearing the brunt of that (education cost) on their backs,” said Rep, Mark Johnson, R-Hood River.

Community colleges might get more if lawmakers approve a diversion of $20 million in excess corporate income taxes that otherwise would go back to businesses. But two-thirds majorities are required for a diversion, and state officials say that the amount may fall short of the figure that would “kick” the excess taxes. That number will be determined in the next quarterly economic and revenue forecast on Aug. 28.

State universities might get more, including enough to cancel the proposed tuition increases, if there is a grand bargain between the parties for additional savings in public-pension costs and for new revenues.

Rep. Phil Barnhart, D-Eugene, voted for the university budget but said he was skeptical that a grand bargain will occur. He said the House missed a chance to boost education budgets earlier in the session, when Democrats failed to muster a 60 percent majority for a $250 million tax package and the House settled for an $18 million tax compliance plan favored by Republicans.

“It is easy for us to talk about the need to raise this budget,” said Barnhart, who leads the House Revenue Committee. “It is hard to provide the resources necessary to do it.”

pwong@StatesmanJournal.com or (503) 399-6745 or twitter.ocm/capitolwong

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