President Daniel Bernstine and Portland Community College’s President Preston Pulliams took vacation time on Monday, the first day of the fall term, to campaign against two November ballot measures they say could devastate Oregon’s public universities.
In a press conference in PSU’s Smith Memorial Student Union, the presidents said that Ballot Measures 41 and 48 would damage an already under-funded higher educational system.
Pulliams said that Measure 41, a change in tax statute, would cut $77 million from colleges and universities in the 2005-06 budget cycle. Measure 48, a state-spending cap, would cut $2.2 billion from the projected state budget in 2007-09.
"I believe that PSU would be forced to consider eliminating programs and reducing student access [if these measures pass]," Bernstine said. "Ballot Measures 41 and 48 put Portland State, our students, our faculty, staff, and our community at risk."
Pulliams concurred, saying that tuitions would "go through the roof" if Measures 41 and 48 became law.
Billed by its supporters as a family tax cut, Measure 41 would provide middle-income households with a tax reduction of about $140 per person. This would reduce Oregon’s state revenues by about 6 percent, cutting funds for higher education and other state services.
The secretary of state’s explanatory statement on Measure 41 describes it as a statute changing the way state income taxes are calculated. Currently, Oregon taxpayers receive a $154 tax credit for each federal exemption. Measure 41 would offer taxpayers the opportunity to claim a state tax deduction equal to federal deductions.
Measure 48, in contrast, is a constitutional amendment limiting the growth of the state budget. Oregon’s state budgets are drafted biennially in Salem. Under this measure, new budgets would be "capped" and could only expand to match population growth and inflation.
The secretary of state’s estimate of financial impact states that the measure would reduce state spending in the next biennium by $2.2 billion, cutting money available for higher education, health care and other state services.
Commenting on the press conference, Brendan Steinhauser, a campaigner for Measure 41, said that the measure would not reduce the size of state budgets. "Its impact would be merely to slow the rate of growth in state spending," he wrote in an e-mail.
However, the secretary of state estimates that the statute would reduce state budget revenues by $151 million in 2006-07 and $385 million in 2007-08.
Measure 48 campaigner Matt Evans frowned on the presidents’ press conference. "It’s an inappropriate use of public resources," he said. "I should think illegal."
Evans said that the state budget would increase approximately 8.5 percent every two years under Measure 48. "There are no cuts involved," he said. "Rather, there are guaranteed increases."
But Bernstine averred that budget growth capped to the rate of inflation was not enough.
"Even the current level of support for higher education is inadequate," Bernstine said. "There is a continuing erosion of state support – we receive about 15 percent of our total budget from the state."
Measure 41 was written by local anti-tax activist Bill Sizemore and its chief petitioner is Russ Walker, of the national organization FreedomWorks. Measure 48’s chief petitioner is Don McIntire, another local anti-tax activist best known for his association with 1990’s property-tax-cutting Measure 5.
Patrick Beisell, a sophomore in PSU’s English department, also spoke at Monday’s press conference. "Since our economy is improving we should be reinvesting in our colleges and universities," he said.