Wins for Higher Ed in 2 State Votes

May 19, 2010

On a primary election day in which anti-tax, anti-government sentiment was strong nationally, public colleges and universities in Arizona and Oregon won key victories.

In Arizona, voters backed Proposition 100, which will temporarily increase the sales tax by one cent on the dollar. Education (elementary and secondary schools primarily, but also higher education) will be the primary beneficiary of the additional funds. In Oregon, voters approved changes in bond rules that will allow public colleges and universities to use low-cost bonds to finance the purchase of existing buildings, not just the construction of new ones. In both states, organized opposition to the measures was minimal, but a history of anti-tax sentiments in both Arizona and Oregon meant that passage could not be seen as a sure thing.

Revenue from the Arizona sales tax is already built into the state budget for higher education for the year, so, if the measure had been defeated, today would have seen college leaders announcing new cuts, on top of deep spending reductions already announced.

The three universities governed by the Arizona Board of Regents would have had to cut $107 million from their budgets had voters rejected the sales tax, according to estimates prepared by the board. Arizona State University might have had to cut up to 650 positions and to impose enrollment caps on certain programs. The University of Arizona was looking at eliminating up to 500 positions and changes in class sizes. Northern Arizona University was considering changes to some of its campuses.

The Maricopa Community Colleges, in Phoenix, would have lost $13 million had the tax failed. Pima Community College would have lost $1.6 million.

In Oregon, voters approved Measure 69, which broadens the uses for which low cost bonds may be issued on behalf of public colleges and universities. Until now, the lowest-cost bonds could only be used to construct entirely new facilities. The change will allow for bonds to be used to purchase existing facilities or to renovate or make improvements in them. The shift comes at a time when many colleges -- especially those facing booming enrollments -- are finding it less expensive and speedier to buy buildings than to construct them.

This article from Oregon Public Broadcasting illustrates how one institution in the state -- the Oregon Institute of Technology -- has been hoping for passage of Measure 69. It has identified buildings to use to expand offerings, but they need significant renovations before they could be used for the science laboratories that faculty members and students need.

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