Co-chair budget released

The Oregon Legislature Ways and Means Committee co-chairs released their recommended budget for the 2009-11 biennium on Monday, which amounts to $15.2 billion in spending and lottery funds for Oregon.

The Oregon Legislature Ways and Means Committee co-chairs released their recommended budget for the 2009-11 biennium on Monday, which amounts to $15.2 billion in spending and lottery funds for Oregon.

This represents a 5.3-percent increase from the budget for the 2007-09 biennium, however, it is still indicative of the rough economic conditions facing Oregon and the rest of the nation.

According to the recommended budget, state agencies will receive, on average, a 12.5-percent cut to help fill the estimated $3.8 million budget deficit Oregon faces.

The co-chairs’ recommendations call for approximately $797.5 million for higher education, which represents almost 14 percent—or $127.4 million—less than the estimated amount of funding that Oregon’s universities must have to operate at their current levels without cuts.

Despite the underfunding evident in the proposed budget, some are content with the level to which higher education has been cut amid the troubling economic circumstances.

“The forecast is better than we thought it was going to be,” said Zach Martinson, ASPSU state affairs director. “This isn’t a massive tragedy for students, but it isn’t a favor either.”

Martinson repeatedly emphasized that the recommended budget is merely a proposal and there is likely to be at least some changes before the Oregon Legislature’s 2009 session comes to its scheduled close on June 30.

Jesse Cornett, Portland State’s director of government relations, also said that the 2009-11 budget will vary from the proposal that the Ways and Means Committee released Monday.

Within the $127.4 shortfall for higher education is a 7-percent increase per year in tuition and fees for undergraduates. This figure represents an average tuition and fees increase for Oregon universities, which will vary depending on each school’s specific budget situation.

For example, it is likely that students at Southern Oregon University will see a lower tuition increase than their counterparts at the University of Oregon due to the differences in the sizes of the universities and their current tuition levels. 

There is a 9 percent average increase for tuition and fees recommended for college students who are not undergraduates.

In early April, Portland State President Wim Wiewel predicted that students would face a 10 to 15 percent tuition increase. This would result in an increase of $131 to $196 per term for an undergraduate Oregon resident taking 12 credits at Portland State.

However, it seems that tuition increases at this level are less likely than originally expected at Portland State.
“The legislature appears posed to prohibit double-digit tuition increases,” Cornett said.

Wiewel said in April that the further tuition increases move down from the 15 percent level, the more cuts Portland State must make to other facets of the university to adequately compensate.

Martinson said that he believes class sizes will grow and lab fees might increase, and on the whole expects that noticeable cost-saving measures will be taken around the university.

There is the potential that funding to student services such as advising and support may decrease. However, these areas might not be cut substantially because the State Board of Higher Education has prioritized student services.

In addition, faculty salary reductions and layoffs are another possibility to help reduce expenses for the university. However, at this time it is unknown how much or where cuts will be assessed. 

With the co-chair’s recommended budget now released, Martinson said it is the perfect time to mobilize students and ensure that the student voice is heard at the capitol.

Martinson said the ASPSU has already begun letter-writing and calling campaigns, among other tactics, to deliver a student presence in Salem, which garners additional funding for higher education, and not lose any ground that has already been gained.

“We’re in the middle of a hurricane and we’re doing our best not to move,” Martinson said.

Co-chairs budget highlights
Total spending: $15.2 billion, which is a 5.3 percent increase over the 2007-09 budget of $14.4 billion

Oregon’s budget deficit: The state is facing a $3.8 billion shortfall compared to about $15.4 billion in California and $9 billion in Washington

Higher education: $797.5 million, which is almost 14 percent—or $127.4 million—less than the amount Oregon universities are expected to need to operate at their current capacities

Tuition increases:
The Ways and Means Committee Co-chairs call for a state-wide average increase of 7 percent for undergraduates and 9 percent for all others