OSU President Wants More State Help
Oregon State University President Ed Ray criticized Governor Kate Brown’s proposed budget during his State of the University address in Portland on Thursday, Feb. 7. Gov. Brown has said part of the $1.9 billion in tax increases from budget would go toward higher education, but the full details of which have not yet been released and are still changing. Ray told the audience that even if this promised funding is delivered, his larger concern is the rapidly shrinking financial support from the state to universities.
According to Ray, 65 percent of OSU’s funding comes from tuition, with an additional 22 percent from state funding. The portion of funding from the state has dropped by half over the last 15 years. He referred to the increasing cost of higher education as fueling a “crisis on inequity” that “risk[s] creating a permanent underclass of people who have no stake in the future of our society.”
“Going forward, I ask our state’s leaders to listen to students,” Ray told the audience, “They will say that Oregon’s public universities no longer can be funded on their backs and the backs of their families.”
Measles Confirmed in Oregon
At the time of writing, there are four confirmed cases of measles in Multnomah County (Portland area) and one potential case in Marion County (Salem area).
As the measles outbreak across the river in Clark County, Washington increases to 53 confirmed cases, the spread of the disease into Oregon has prompted lawmakers here, as in Washington, to reconsider “non-medical exemptions” to vaccination being allowed. Currently, students without vaccinations are allowed to attend school if they obtain one of these exemptions, only having to remain home if an outbreak occurs while they are on campus.
Vaccination rates in some Oregon counties fall well below the threshold for a community to maintain “herd immunity,” the level at which there is enough resistance across a community that a disease cannot spread itself effectively. That threshold is a 95 percent vaccination rate. Benton County has an 86 percent vaccination rate.
One positive outcome of this health crisis is that vaccination rates appear to be on the rise as a response, but whether this will affect the pace of the outbreak at all is unclear. County health officials have said that they are pleased vaccination rates are going up, but people should realize that making vaccination a standard for all children can prevent outbreaks like this one from occurring in the first place.
Corvallis Sues Over Stormwater Rules
Corvallis is joining Albany, Turner, Millersburg, Springfield, and Bend in filing lawsuits against the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality over new rules for stormwater management which would take effect March 1.
Corvallis City Manager Mark Shepard has said the new rules could increase the cost of stormwater management, already at $1.9 million, by up to 40 percent. Shepard expressed concerns that the required costs are so high that “some undeveloped properties in Corvallis would be rendered undevelopable.” This is a serious concern in Corvallis, where development costs have frequently been cited as a reason to stall important housing and commercial development in under-served parts of the city.
DEQ spokesperson Katherine Benenati told reporters the permit they were granted “after releasing multiple drafts and engaging in extensive public involvement,” and that “the new permit contains necessary requirements on these municipalities to control stormwater impacts to water quality.”
Portland lawyer Casey M. Nokes is representing all six cities in the dispute, and has advised their respective officials not to speak about the suits. Turner City Manager David Sawyer reportedly canceled an interview with the Salem Statesman-Journal on Nokes’ advice.
Capitol Harassment Training Receives Harsh Criticism
Almost two dozen legislative staffers have signed a formal complaint letter to legislative leaders, saying the sexual harassment training program was upsetting, offensive, and outdated. Laura Hanson, chief of staff to Senator Sara Gelser (D-Corvallis) and a rape survivor, was so upset by the training that she had to leave after only 20 minutes. Hanson didn’t start the letter herself, but has signed onto it. She shared her experience with legislators on Wednesday night and some responded they had already heard similar rumors.
According to Hanson, the trainer from the Equal Employment Opportunity Center (EEOC) was there to “check a box,” and was uncomfortably casual and joking with attendees, at one point joking that, “As you all know, snitches get stitches.” The EEOC has been asked for a formal response, but has not yet issued one.
The seriousness of this issue and its clear pervasiveness beyond the halls of the capitol requires accountability both for harassers and those who have the responsibility of covering these events. Lauren Dake of OPB broke this story under the headline “Sexual Harassment Training in Salem Upsetting and Offensive.” Echoing reports, including one from the Gazette-Times, have chosen the title “Sexual Harassment Training in Salem Upsetting to Some,” but reprinted the full contents of Dake’s article.
Study Shows Taxing the Rich is Not So Bad
A new study from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) in Washington, D.C. found that seven of eight states which raised taxes on their highest earners have had similar or slightly better economic growth compared to neighboring states since those taxes took effect. Oregon raised income taxes on its wealthiest earners, households making more than $500,000 per year, to 11 percent in 2009. This was a “temporary rate,” designed to drop to 9.9 percent in 2012, which remains the top personal income tax rate.
The Oregon tax increase in 2009 marks the start of the observation period, and all states were observed until the second fiscal quarter of 2018. State GDP increased 33.3 percent over this period, compared to 34.5 percent in neighboring states. However, annual per capita income (for each person rather than the state overall) increased by 30 percent, edging out our neighbors at 28.7 percent.
A common criticism of raising personal tax rates is a fear of driving away wealth and therefore jobs and investment as a consequence. The study considers this to be mostly myth: “[A 2016 study] from Stanford University and the U.S. Treasury Department…found that millionaires rarely move from one state to another, and when they do, it’s usually not because of taxes.”
The legislature is considering a budget containing almost $1.9 billion in new taxes, although much of it appears to be directed at businesses rather than individuals.
By Ian MacRonald