The 2017 legislative session has begun and the biggest issue facing the state and its legislators is money. While this week’s revenue forecast increased revenue by $200 million, the state still needs an additional $1.6 billion to fund services at existing levels. The Governor’s recommended budget includes new revenue to fill some of the budget shortfall—an increase in the cigarette tax and in the health care provider tax. The Ways and Means Committee co-chairs’ budget does not include new revenue. What kind of budget will actually be adopted at the end of the session remains to be seen. The Ways and Means Committee has scheduled budget town halls across the state to hear from Oregonians and discuss their proposal.
Town hall meetings thus far have been well-attended and Oregonians have made the case for new revenue again and again to legislators. AAUP-Oregon leaders Erna Gelles and José Padín attended the Portland session on February 11th, and while signed up to testify, were not given the opportunity due to the large numbers of people wishing to speak. Maude Hines from the PSU faculty did get to testify about the impact of cuts on PSU. The Eugene area budget town hall this past Saturday drew members of United Academics, including legislative chair Joe Lowndes. Two additional town halls have been scheduled for the Portland area: March 4th for east Multnomah County from 1:00 to 3:00 at the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization on NE 103nd and Glisan, and March 9th from 7 to 9 pm at Beaverton High School. If you are interested in coming to testify , please let Margaret know at Margaret@aaup-oregon.org.
Close to two thousand bills have been introduced in the Legislature, with more coming out every day. AAUP-Oregon’s lobbyist Chris Parta is tracking many of them, both good and bad, to make sure faculty interests are represented. President José Padín testified on February 13th in opposition to two PERS related bills, SB 559 and SB 560. (For more on PERS, see the separate piece in this newsletter). We are supporting SB 196, a bill to provide health care for adjunct faculty who teach at more than one state institution and would be eligible for health care benefits if their hours were totaled up. The AAUP-Oregon legislative committee, along with the legislative committees of PSU-AAUP and United Academics at UO, are looking at bills and recommending positions as the bills are introduced.
A Better Oregon
The coalition that worked together on Measure 97 continues the battle for game-changing revenue to fund vital Oregon services. We are working with the coalition to remind lawmakers and the public that Oregon is dead last in corporate taxes and that we need to make corporations pay their share.
Higher Ed Lobby Day
The Oregon Student Association, supported by faculty and staff, lobbied the legislature on Valentine’s Day to provide more money for higher education. Almost 200 turned out to visit legislators individually, talk to key legislators in several group meetings, and rally on the steps of the Capitol. The message was clear—more revenue is needed for all state services, but particularly to reduce student debt and increase resources for instruction and research. The students’ theme was drowning in debt and they had great visuals, wearing life preservers.