Big issues remain as Legislature closes in on session's end

This article first appeared in Around the O on June 20, 2017. University of Oregon leaders and supporters are staying visible in Salem as legislators continue to work through important bills and policy issues.

President Michael Schill met with legislators and was present for the passage of House Concurrent Resolution 37, which honored the University of Oregon for its recent academic and athletic achievements. The resolution was co-sponsored by the entire Eugene-area legislative delegation as well as House Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson, an alumna, and Sen. Richard Devlin.

As the legislative session speeds toward the finish line, policy committees have shut down to hold informational hearings on areas of interest. One of those areas is the total solar eclipse that will pass through Oregon this August. On June 6, UO Knight Professor of Natural Science James Brau spoke about the eclipse to the Senate Education Committee. Brau’s presentation can be viewed online.

Lawmakers continue to grapple with balancing the state’s budget and passing critical policy bills by a July 10 deadline. While higher education budgets have not yet come up for votes, the K-12 budget has passed the Senate and is waiting for a vote in the House of Representatives.

The budget allocates $8.2 billion to the State School Fund. The Legislature has also come to agreement on an increased tax on hospitals and on health care premiums, which will help fill a major budget hole.

 A transportation funding package, another core component of end-of-session negotiations, continues to be debated. The package would raise billions of dollars through an increased gas tax and registration and titling fees to fund highway maintenance, preservation, seismic upgrades, multimodal transportation, traffic congestion relief, freight mobility, public transportation and public safety.

Finally, conversations continue around a revenue package, PERS reform and implementation of cost containment and spending reductions. It remains unclear which, if any, proposals will move forward this session. In May, the seven university presidents sent a letter to all legislators calling for increased revenue with responsible cost-containment measures to help ensure students do not take on a lifetime of debt and universities can maintain and make new investments in critical student support services and affordability programs.