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Endorsement urged for student-aid bonds

City Club to consider Measure 86 support.


The City Club of Portland will consider a recommendation to endorse Measure 86, which will allow the state to issue bonds and create a fund for student aid.

If voters approve it Nov. 4, Oregon would be the first state to use bonds or other debt to create a fund, earnings from which would help students in post-secondary education and career training.

The recommendation released Wednesday is one of five for statewide measures, and 10 overall on election-related issues, that members of Oregon’s most prestigious civic forum will consider. City Club endorsements will be disclosed Aug. 26.

Measure 86 was referred by the 2013 Legislature at the urging of state Treasurer Ted Wheeler.

The City Club report says in part:

“Debt provides a politically viable mechanism to accomplish something the Legislature has been unable or unwilling to prioritize up to this point, without a significant sacrifice to current spending.

“Using debt is more expensive than direct allocation, and it has tradeoffs, but is worth it because of the long-term asset with future earnings potential that it ultimately creates.”

Wheeler, in a statement released Wednesday, says:

"Advanced education and technical training are more important than ever. I thank the City Club for supporting Measure 86, which invests in student aid to keep Oregon economically competitive in the 21st century."

However, two members of the City Club panel signed a minority report opposed to Measure 86.

Under the measure, the Legislature would authorize the sale of general obligation bonds — which are backed by the state’s credit — and earnings from the fund would be distributed as student aid. Aid would not be limited to students at four-year colleges and universities.

The bond money itself would not go to students.

It has similarities to the Common School Fund, which draws money from timber sales and other activities on state-managed lands, and its earnings are distributed to Oregon’s 197 school districts.

The constitutional amendment would not set the amounts; lawmakers would do so.

“This measure has the potential to truly be a game changer for our state,” says Charles McGee, who led the City Club panel.

“The possibility of trade school or higher education benefits Oregon in myriad ways, and this ballot measure is an opportunity for Oregonians to show their support for keeping it affordable. After 30 years of declining funding, the state needs a new model for higher education, and a public endowment is a viable solution.

Joining McGee in the majority endorsement are Abby Coppock, lead writer; Beth Crane, Ulla Dosedal, April Ruth Hoffmann, Ian McDonald and Christopher Stadler.

Dissenters are Krystine McCants, vice chairwoman, and Eric Fruits.

They say that reducing the cost of higher education is an “unambiguously worthy goal,” but it should be done by means other than selling bonds and creating debt.

“Resources used to reduce the cost of higher education to individual students take away resources from other programs,” their dissent says.

“If Oregonians agree that reducing the costs of higher education to individual students is a state priority, then that priority should be reflected in the state budget process by, for example, increasing direct appropriations to the Oregon Opportunity Grant.”

Rob Brostoff and Roger Eiss are the research advisers.

Recommended positions on the measures and presentations on the issues will take place at a City Club forum from 5:30 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 20, in the Village Ballroom at Oregon Public House, 700 NE Dekum St., Portland. The public is invited, but only City Club members may vote on recommendations.

For a link to the City Club of Portland report on Measure 86, with majority and minority views:

www.pdxcityclub.org/ballotmeasures-bonds

The City Club of Portland also is releasing reports on two other measures that failed to qualify for the Nov. 4 ballot. One would have allowed business owners to refuse to provide services for same-sex marriages or committal ceremonies. The other would have absolved home and business owners of liability in defense of their property.

Links to those reports are:

www.pdxcityclub.org/ballotmeasures-religious

www.pdxcityclub.org/ballotmeasures-castledoc

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Adds comment from state Treasurer Ted Wheeler, who urged the Legislature to refer Measure 86 to voters.