OSU lobbyist Jock Mills sends out his last report, with info Angela Wilhelms won’t give the UO trustees on capital funding disaster

Jock Mills has been OSU’s lobbyist for ~20 years. I’ve never met him, but he sends his legislative updates to anyone with an email address – even a @uoregon.edu one – and they are far more informative than anything I’ve ever got from UO’s lobbyists.

He is retiring from lobbying this year – but unfortunately for UO his retirement gig is running an OSU effort to train their students how to lobby for OSU. We are so screwed.

He sent out his final report this evening, here. It’s notable for the things UO did not tell its trustees at their committee meetings today – like the straight story on the HECC capital budget proposal and how bad it is for UO, UO’s plan to lobby with OSU for a law on athlete’s name and likeness legislation, etc: Here is an abbreviated version:

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.)

Universities are also united in seeking to mend a tarnished image with many legislators, tied to a number of concerns. Chief among them are legislative perceptions of disputes and disagreements among the universities over capital projects and the funding formula the HECC uses to distribute operating funds among the institutions. Other concerns include competition among the universities over what educational programs they may offer, financial accountability, high administrative salaries, low pay for the rank & file, and difficulties students face when seeking to transfer credits from community colleges, advanced placement, and accelerated learning programs. During the session, legislators will be considering a number of bills that could exacerbate or relieve these negative impressions. (These are addressed in Policy Matters, below.)

Capital Construction

During the 2019 session, the legislature committed $946 million of the state’s projected $1.3 billion general fund debt capacity to long term bonds, leaving approximately $315 million (about 25% of the total biennial capacity) for allocation in 2020 to entities that are seeking bond-reliant projects. (The state has available an additional $30.5 million in lottery bonds.)

For the sake of comparison, during the 2017-19 biennium, the legislature allocated $288 million in general fund bonds to projects at the state’s seven public universities. (This figure comprised about 28% of the state’s general fund debt capacity in that biennium.) In November, university presidents joined together in urging the legislature to approve at least that amount during the current biennium. (See: Continue Capital Investments in Public University Infrastructure). If the legislature were to invest a similar proportion of the state’s debt capacity to Oregon’s public university, this figure would be $322.85 million. Considering the $65 million the legislature authorized during the 2019 session, this would leave about $257 million for university projects – IF the legislature devoted the same proportion of the state’s debt capacity to its universities as it did for the last biennium.

This week the HECC will consider a staff-prioritized list of 16 proposed projects from the seven universities. The table below identifies the projects and their rankings.

We anticipate the HECC will ultimately recommend this list, or one similar to it, to the Governor, who then will determine how much of the state’s debt capacity she wants to devote to university projects. The universities are working towards being united in supporting increased capital investments that reflect the HECC’s list. OSU’s legislative efforts over the next three months will be aimed at funding for three capital projects on the list:

    • OSU Cascades Student Success Center: $12.9 million in state bonds, matched by an additional $5 million in student-approved fees (Students have already committed over $1 million in student fees for this project.)
    • Arts & Education Complex: $35 million in state bonds, matched by an additional $35 million in donor and university funds.
    • Cordley Capital Renewal: $28 million state bonds for Cordley Hall Renovation (second phase), matched by an additional $28 million in university bonds.

OSU is providing $68 million in matching funds for the $75.9 million in state bonding capacity that it is seeking – nearly doubling the state’s investments. It is worth noting that $5 million of these matching funds are from student fees approved by OSU Cascades students in a 2017 campus-wide vote. To see the materials we are using with legislators regarding OSU’s capital projects, click here (meant to be folded booklet-style).

Policy Matters

Student Athlete Name, Image Likeness: OSU is working with the University of Oregon and others to assist in the consideration of legislation that would mirror a bill passed in California, and other state legislation that would enable college athletes to seek and receive sponsorships while also ensuring that all college athletes are adequately supported during and after their college careers. For a student perspective on this topic, see: “We are the 100%.”

Betting on College Sports: OSU is working with others to create a state statute that would pre-empt the Oregon Lottery from extending sports betting to include college sports.

Universities will also be active in engaging in legislation that seeks to facilitate the transfer of credits for students as they progress through the education continuum from high school through community colleges and universities. As well, universities will be supporting legislation that would establish and fund health care for part-time faculty who work at multiple campuses.

The Challenge of a Short Session

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