Governor recommends paying for academic improvements, other projects must be paid by student fees

Posted by Dashiell Paulson on Thursday, Feb. 7 at 10:08 am.

Governor John Kitzhaber has given his backing for $230.3 million in bonds for the University of Oregon to pay for construction projects next year including $11 million to be spent by the state on paying for new classrooms in Straub and Earl Hall.

In a list of “recommendations” released on Tuesday, Kitzhaber asked the state legislature to invest $242 million in state-paid debt in Oregon’s higher education system. The money is being allotted to projects that directly affect academics and OSU came out the clear leader in state dollars with $58.5 million to go toward their construction projects. An additional $390 million would be issued in bonds the universities would have to pay through other means.

The University of Oregon prioritized large scale projects tied to student “experience” this year including a $50,250,000 expansion and renovation for the Student Recreation Center, a $84,300,000 renovation and expansion for the Erb Memorial Union, and a $84,750,000 for a University “Housing expansion.” These buildings represent massive possible improvements to campus infrastructure, but they don’t directly affect academics so they will need to be paid for with student fees in the case of the Rec Center and the EMU, and likely higher room costs in the case of Housing.

A concern about the proposed budget is that the $11 million carved out for the UO in state paid debt only represents 4.5 percent of the total $242 million Kitzhaber wants to give higher education. Western Oregon University, a school with about a quarter of the student population of UO would receive more than $17 million in state dollars.

“The most important thing to recognize,” Phil Weiler said, a UO representative from strategic communications, “is that this is the very beginning of a long six month process. The governor makes a proposal for who he thinks the state should be spending its bonding authority on. That goes to the legislature and then the legislature debates it and typically they don’t make a decision until the very end of the session which this year is in June.”

This might be one of the last times UO has to have its construction projects approved by the state. A bill will be circulating this session that could grant the UO and PSU local governing boards that would bypass the state and allow the UO to borrow money itself. Currently, the Oregon Legislature could in theory (and they have before) simply not issue the UO or other universities bonds for their construction projects.

The big winners in Kitzhaber’s proposed budget are Oregon State University and Portland State University. OSU will get $58.5 million towards expansions for its Cascades campus, classroom building and a building for chemical, environmental and biological engineering. PSU got $40 million of the $50 million they requested for renovating their school of business.

“With projects like new student housing, classrooms and work force training centers at campuses across the state, we are putting Oregonians back to work and providing our post-secondary students the facilities they need to succeed,” Governor Kitzhaber said.

Kirah Ingram contributed reporting to this article.