Budget reductions loom for Portland State

Programs and positions at Portland State University are set to be cut due to budget constraints. What remains unclear is who will ultimately be the most affected. Dr. Jay Kenton is doing all he can to rebalance the operating expenses that he and his staff had just finished in October.

Kenton is the associate vice president of finance at PSU, as well as a professor. He completed the task of balancing the school budget based on the state-allocated money in October. Due to the events of Sept. 11 and a sluggish Oregon economy, his figures will need adjusting.

A letter from Governor Kitzhaber to all schools in the Oregon University System (OUS) says the shortfall could reach as much as $700 million in the coming years. Kenton is taking proactive steps to soften the blow that may come further on down the line.

“The governor cannot retract funding that has already been approved. What he can do is reduce future spending, and he may do so by as much as 10 percent. We want to begin saving now so when it happens we will have a head start in balancing our budget,” Kenton said. He said his job is really no different than that of balancing a household budget. With increasing costs and a potential pay cut, certain aspects are bound to suffer. “I look at the economic climate and try to predict what condition we will be in the future. I call it the burn rate. We know we will have to give money back in the future, so we are cutting back on the throttle now until we know exactly how much.”

It is still unclear as to which areas will see the largest reduction in allocated funds, but the emphasis is going to be in maintaining instruction. This means that research and services are most likely to bear the brunt of the burden. Administration will also see cutbacks, as some positions with openings may go unfilled and staff that is employed on year-to-year contracts may not have their contracts renewed.

Kenton and his staff will not know exactly the extent of the cuts until spring. Proposals are being batted back and forth between the school, the legislature, and the executive committee. His goal is to enact preemptive reduction measures so when he sees exactly what the results will be, PSU will be ready. This comes at a time of economic growth for Portland State. Enrollment is up to 21,110, tuition was increased by 4 percent and expenditures were cut by over $5 million last quarter. Roughly 25 percent of the PSU budget comes from state support.

Compared to other west coast states, Oregon does not rank unfavorably. Both Washington and California have already announced pending budget cuts by as much as 15 percent.

According to Kenton, these budget crises seem to along every 10 years, right at about the beginning of the decade. “In 1981 we had a major economic crisis. In 1992, the passing of Ballot Measure 5 greatly reduced government spending for higher education. Now in 2002, we seem to be facing another economic downturn that will make our spending tight once more.”

The budget reduction submitted to the Board of Higher Education has not yet been approved. There will be a meeting Friday at PSU to go over the plan. The meeting is open to PSU students and will be held at SMC 327 between 9 a.m. and noon.