On Tuesday, December 1st Governor Kate Brown released her proposed budget for the 2021- 23 biennium. 

The Governor recommends balancing the $25.6 Billion general and lottery fund budget through a combination of one time funds, $310 million in new revenue, and makes some modest assumptions about continuation of federal Medicaid assistance programs. The budget recommends using $215 million of the Education Stability Fund, and raises $310 million in new revenue through eliminating some tax expenditures (pass through), disconnecting from portions of the federal tax code included in the CARES act, limiting the home interest mortgage deduction to first homes, increasing tax surcharges on distilled spirits, and increasing rural hospital assessment rates. Additionally, the budget also proposes the closure of three prisons and makes some targeted cuts to the Oregon Health Plan.

The budget largely protects higher education from cuts in state funding, here are the highlights for OSU.

Public University Support Fund: $836.9 million General Fund, unchanged from the 2019-21 Legislatively Allocated Budget (LAB), but a net $6.9 million increase with the movement of two OSU programs out of the PUSF (see Statewides and State Programs sections below).

Capital Construction: Cordley Hall ($86 million) and the OSU-Cascades Student Success Center ($13.8 million) were recommended for funding alongside projects at PSU, UO and EOU. An additional $80 million for capital improvement and renewal (CIR) was recommended for the public universities.  OSU typically received about a third of CIR funds. The document lists the OSU-Cascades Phase 2 Land Remediation as being recommended, but it was later clarified by the Governor’s office that they intended to recommend the Student Success Center and will make the fix. XI-F bond projects were not included in the recommendation for any of the universities.

OSU Statewide Public Service Programs: $193.0 total funds. The Statewide Public Services Programs, including Outdoor School, are funded at 2019-21 LAB levels. Additional funding comes from moving funding for building maintenance of statewide public services facilities support ($4.1 million General Fund) from the Public University Support Fund to this program.

Public University State Programs: $44.7 million total General Fund. The regular Public University State Programs (including for OSU: OCCRI, Fermentation Science, Marine Research Vessel, Institute for Natural Resources, TallWood, ATAMI, and Engineering Technology Sustaining Funds) are funded at the 2019-21 Legislatively Approved Budget level. The Governor’s Budget moved $2.8 million General Fund for the Veterinary Diagnostic Lab out of the Public University Support Fund and into this program area.

Financial Aid Programs:

  • Funding for Sports Action Lottery scholarships was increased slightly to a total of $15.1M. OSU and UO each receive $1,030,000 of these funds for scholarships for student athletes and graduate students.
  • The Governor recommended increasing funding for the Oregon Opportunity Grant by $4.7 million (CSL), bringing the total amount to $114.2 million. 
  • The Governor recommended increasing funding for the Oregon Promise by $1.26 million (CSL), bringing total funding for the program to $42.2 million.

The Governor’s budget is based on the December 2020 revenue forecast, which continued to predict modest revenue growth and shows that state collections had largely recovered from the COVID-19 associated shutdowns that occurred during the spring of 2020. The forecast however did not capture lost revenue associated with current COVID-19 restrictions.

The Legislature will convene on January 19, 2021 and are constitutionally required to adopt a balanced budget no later than June 28, 2021.The state economists will deliver two revenue forecasts before the legislature must conclude their work this summer. 

While uncertainty around the logistics and timing of the 2021 session remain, OSU is actively working with the other public universities, faculty, staff, students, and alumni to make the case that lawmakers must increase funding above the levels included in the Governor’s budget. This will be essential to help the institution maintain financial stability. For now, we are grateful that cuts in our state appropriation that we feared over the summer months are not reflected in the Governor’s budget, and are hopeful that we can increase funding by working with legislative leaders over the next 6 months.

The Governor received a question about higher education funding in her press conference this afternoon. When asked, she stated: “I did not have the resources I wanted when building this budget…. My goal is to work with the legislature to find more resources for our universities and community colleges…..universities literally open up the world for our students and we need to work to increase funding.” 

The Governor was also asked a question about OSU-Cascades during the press conference. She commented: “What I have heard from the [OSU-Cascades] community is that the Student Success Center is really important. In my visits to the university I heard from students who said that ‘honestly, I wouldn’t be able to attend higher education without the presence of this campus in Central Oregon’. I know it is a life-changer for many Oregon students and I look forward to working with the Legislature to fund this particular project.”

The following is an update on Tuesday’s election.  As we prepared this, the political landscape continues to take shape as votes continue to be counted.

Federal Election Landscape

Votes continue to be counted in very tight races in key states across the country that will determine both the winner of the Presidential election, as well as Senate races that will determine which political party will hold the Senate majority next congress. In the House of Representatives, democrats will continue to hold the House majority, but by a slightly more narrow margin. The final outcomes will shape our expectations for the federal agenda next congress, of which our expectations widely vary depending on the balance of power in and between Congress and the White House. 

For the Oregon delegation, Senator Jeff Merkley and all House member incumbents won their elections and will return to congress. In the OR-2 district, Rep. Greg Walden is retiring and the seat was won by Cliff Bentz, a familiar name to many in the OSU community from his time in the state legislature. Mr. Bentz is the first new member we welcome into Oregon’s federal delegation since 2012 when Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (OR-1) was appointed in a special election.   

State Races 

Democrats will again control all of Oregon’s statewide executive offices. State Treasurer Tobias Read and Attorney General Ellen Rosenbaum both won reelection. State Senator Shemia Fagan defeated State Senator Kim Thatcher for Secretary of State, flipping the seat that was previously held by republican Dennis Richardson, and then after his death, Bev Clarno. During the campaign, Fagan voiced support of plans for OSU to manage the Elliott State Forest as a research forest. The Secretary of State is one of three members of the State Land Board, which will soon be making a decision on the future of the Elliott.

While some state legislative races are too close to call, Oregon will only see a small shift in the overall make-up of the legislature, though some regions of the state have seen consequential changes in political representation. The most dramatic political shift was seen on the Oregon Coast where three open seats currently held by retiring democrats have all been won by republicans. Senator Roblan will be replaced by Dick Anderson (Lincoln City mayor), Representative McKeown by Boomer Wright (former school superintendent and Reedsport resident) and Representative Mitchell by Suzanne Weber (Tillamook mayor). Over the past several elections, these districts have seen narrowing margins in democrat victories. Without incumbents running, republican candidates were able to pick up those seats, switching some of the last standing rural democrat districts in the state. This shift on the coast is significant. The Coastal Caucus, which has operated as one of the only substantive bi-partisan caucuses in Salem, has been a key voice in advancing OSU legislative priorities in natural resources and on the coast. New membership in that group will certainly change the historic role they have played in state policy-making.

Additionally, as Deschutes County has turned bluer over the last several years, two of the area’s republican legislators faced tough reelection races. At last check, Senator Tim Knopp (Bend) appeared to be leading the race against Eileen Kiely by 1,500 votes, where we expect the advantage to hold. Representative Cheri Helt (Bend) lost to Deputy District Attorney Jason Kropf. While both Sen. Knopp and Rep. Helt were strong supporters of OSU-Cascades, the flip in the Bend house district will likely broaden the political support for Cascades. 

One of the Senate races in Salem is also too close to call. Senator Denyc Boles (R) is currently losing by just under 400 votes to health care advocate Deb Patterson (D), with votes still being counted. Sen. Boles took over the Senate seat from her position as state representative after the passing of long-time Senator Jackie Winters in early 2020. Her participation in the republican walk-out of 2020 may have played a role in this close race.

Overall, the make-up of the State Senate will likely stay the same at 18 D – 12 R. Republicans will pick-up one seat in the House and move the make-up to 37 D – 23 R. Democrats will continue to hold a super majority in both chambers, but fail to meet their goal of controlling chamber quorums. It is yet to be known if walk-out tactics will be used by Republicans in the 2021 legislative session, especially if remote modalities continue to be utilized.

State Ballot Measures

There were four measures on the ballot this election, all passed with significant leads on Tuesday. Measures 107 and 108 were legislative referrals, while Measures 109 and 110 were initiative petitions.

  • Measure 107 amends the Oregon Constitution to allow for stricter campaign finance regulation;
  • Measure 108 increases tobacco taxes, including for e-cigarette (vaping) devices, creating about $150 million in new state revenue;
  • Measure 109 allows for regulated, medical use of psilocybins (hallucinogenic mushrooms); and
  • Measure 110 lessens criminal offenses for some drug possessions and creates more funding for statewide addiction/recovery services through existing marijuana tax collection.

For more Oregon election results, please see the Oregon Secretary of State website.

Last week, the Oregon Legislature held a historic, semi-virtual special session. Convened by the Governor, the session sought to address policy bills related to COVID-19, policing reform and a handful of pressing issues carried over from the February session. The State Capitol remained closed to the general public and most staff as the legislature conducted their business through a mixture of in-person voting sessions and virtual committee meetings.

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Oregon Primary Highlights

Oregon held its primary election on May 19th. Results can be found here. Oregon’s U.S. Senate and Congressional incumbents all won their primary and will continue on to the general election. COVID-19 and social distancing definitely changed how candidates ran their campaigns. The traditional candidate forums and debates moved to web-based platforms, door-to-door canvasing became direct phones calls and digital ads, and opportunities to mingle with voters at community events were canceled.

However, COVID did not impact Oregon voter turnout as was seen in other states. Oregon’s commitment to vote-by-mail paid off with one of the highest state voter turnouts in the national 2020 primary election. This was also Oregon’s first election with prepaid envelopes, making voting so easy that 46% turnout almost seems too low.

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Over the past three months, all of our lives have been impacted in unimaginable ways. The OSU Government Relations team hopes this update finds you and your family healthy and safe.

Since mid-March, OSU has been operating under the Governor’s Higher Education and Stay Home Executive Orders. Our spring term courses moved to remote delivery. This took extraordinary efforts by OSU’s faculty, graduate teaching assistants, advisors and staff to make this switch in just a two-week span. Over 4,000 courses have moved to remote delivery.

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COVID-19 Response

On Sunday, March 8th, Governor Brown declared a State of Emergency in Oregon due to the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Since the declaration, the Legislature’s Emergency Board has allocated $5 million towards the crisis and a special joint legislative committee on Coronavirus Response has been assembled by legislative leadership.

On Wednesday, March 11th, Oregon State University announced guidelines to protect students and employees from COVID-19 community spread. To facilitate the ongoing sharing of information about the virus, Oregon State University has added a link on the OSU homepage to a new page that provides detailed and up-to-date COVID-19 information; links to OSU, local, state and federal resources; updates on the latest federal travel restrictions; and previous university communications about the virus and other information. The web site includes a memo released this week about plans for remote final exams and remote teaching.

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This month marks the end of my 20-year career as Director of Government Relations at OSU. I was drawn to OSU by President Paul Risser in 1999 after working with him while I served on a temporary federal appointment in Governor John Kitzhaber’s office. The Governor asked Risser to chair a citizen commission charged with resolving intractable water quality problems in the Willamette River Basin, and I was serving as the Governor’s liaison to the commission. At its first meeting, Risser, an ecologist, asked the members to briefly address the issues of interest to them. After listening to an hour-long free-ranging collection of concerns which fully described Oregon’s urban-rural divide, Risser briefly synthesized the discussion into a cogent summary that eventually became the commission’s work plan. I thought he was the smartest person I’d ever met.

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Looking to the 2020 legislative session

Universities will be focused on two major priorities as they approach the 2020 legislative session. First, because the legislature postponed decisions about capital facilities on individual campuses during the 2019 session, the universities seeking commitments of state-financed bonds for capital renewal and/or new buildings on their campuses. During the 2019 session the legislature did approve $65 million in bonding for capital renewal projects. These funds will be distributed among the campuses according to a mutually agreed-upon formula developed by the Higher Education Coordinating Commission (HECC). But, in synch with the Governor’s recommendation upon entering the 2019 session, the legislature deferred making decisions about individual campus projects, pending the results of what turned out to be a 280-page 10-year strategic capital development plan commissioned by the HECC. The study assessed the long-term campus trends and needs, and in October the HECC approved the plan. Now, HECC staff have incorporated the findings in recommendations to be considered this week. (These issues will be addressed in Capital Construction below.)

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