University of Oregon leaders and students have seen the inside of the Oregon Capitol building often now that lawmakers have reached the halfway point of the 35-day legislative session.
The university has set clear priorities: defend against cuts to the university’s operating budget, protect Oregon ’Dreamers,’ and secure the second phase of investment in the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact.
Senate Bill 1563 would guarantee in-state tuition at public universities for Oregon students whose parents brought them to the United States as children so long as other requirements are met. It would also allow undocumented students to receive state and institutional financial aid and scholarships.
Under current law, eligibility for tuition equity is based in part on a student’s status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Given the uncertainty of DACA and lack of action in Congress, legislative leaders — with support from the UO — plan to remove this provision from state law. The bill passed the Oregon Senate last week and is now in the House of Representatives.
“Oregonians are valued and welcomed because of their diversity, not in spite of it,” said UO President Michael Schill, who testified before the House Committee on Higher Education and Workforce Development. “Without this legislation, our Dreamers would lack basic protections that safeguard their right to continue their education after high school. This is one way that as a state we can make clear we support every student, no matter his or her immigration status.”
In terms of the state budget and the effects of new federal tax laws, the UO is not in danger of any budget cuts for the remainder of the biennium. Oregon’s Office of Economic Analysis released its March 2018 forecast last week, which indicated that the new federal tax law stands to reduce general fund revenues in the near term but will boost them in future budget periods. It is still unclear how the Legislature will choose to align itself with changes to the federal code.
On the capital construction front, the university is making headway on a joint request with Oregon State University and Eastern Oregon University for state bonds for three buildings: $40 million to complete the Knight Campus, $39 million for an academic building at OSU–Cascades in Bend, and $9 million for a fieldhouse at EOU in La Grande.
The projects offer an opportunity for state partnership beyond investment in students and higher education. Each will use cross-laminated timber and other certified Oregon wood products in their design and construction, creating an opportunity for lawmakers to expand the market for the new product, create family-wage jobs in rural communities and help students.
“In this special session we are asking our state leaders to fulfill the partnership we began in the last session with the first $50 million in bonding capacity,” said Patrick Phillips, acting executive director of the Knight Campus. “We are grateful that a broad coalition from business, industry, labor, the UO, Native American tribes and natural resource companies across the state are supportive of the Knight Campus ambitions.We are hopeful legislators will allocate final $40 million in bond capacity to our project this month, representing their strong support for higher education and innovative Oregon businesses.”
The package received a hearing in the Joint Ways and Means Subcommittee on Capital Construction on Feb. 23.Letters of support from lawmakers and leaders from the timber industry, business and labor can be found on the Government and Community Relations website.