Measure 86 will make college more affordable and reduce student debt

By Ted Wheeler of Portland, Oregon. Ted is Oregon’s State Treasurer and a sixth generation Oregonian.

As you consider your vote, I urge you to vote Yes on Measure 86.

All Oregonians should have a shot at a college education and the job skills needed to compete in today's economy. Measure 86 is a simple and responsible plan to increase financial aid for middle class students and those fighting to get into the middle class.

Measure 86 has three goals: 1) to make Oregon universities and community colleges more affordable and accessible to students; 2) to reduce student debt; and 3) to encourage the expansion of vocational and technical job training opportunities.

National studies confirm what Oregon employers are telling us: advanced education and technical job training are becoming more important than ever in our skills-based economy. People with a college education or equivalent job training earn far more over the course of their careers than people without. The gap is large, and growing.

Unfortunately, Oregon is moving in the wrong direction. Our support for higher education is among the lowest in the nation. On a per capita basis, South Carolina spends seven times what we do on student aid. Of every five qualified applicants for Oregon Opportunity Grants, only one receives any financial support at all.

We are leaving too many students behind, and we do so at the peril of our state’s long-term economic competitiveness. Oregon needs new thinking to get us off the bottom of these lists and regain our relevance in the global economy.

Measure 86 gives the legislature the ability to create a permanent, growing endowment dedicated to student financial aid and vocational programs, and allows the legislature to seed the endowment with a prudent mix of direct appropriations, limited bond sales, and philanthropic contributions.

Measure 86 does not raise taxes – it merely gives the legislature improved financial options to make better use of the resources they already have. No guarantees will be made by the state regarding benefits or rates of return. The state’s Financial Estimate Commission ruled that Measure 86 has “no financial impact” on the state. The endowment will be locked and cannot be raided by the legislature for other purposes.

Here’s how it would work if bonds were issued to seed the endowment: The legislature would authorize the issuance of general obligation bonds. The Treasury would then sell the bonds. The annual cost to taxpayers would be determined at that time, and the cost would be the same, fixed amount each year for 30 years. That amount would be in the state’s budget along with payments for all other bonded projects.

In any given budget cycle, the Legislature must remain within its existing bonding capacity. Measure 86 does that. It has never been proposed that bonds issued as a result of Measure 86 exceed that conservative, prudent limit.

Some have noted that this is neither a costless or riskless strategy, but if Oregon had invested $100 million in this strategy 30 years ago (at the low bond rates available to us now), today the endowment would be worth $474 million while providing $351 million in student aid. If we had decided to go big and invested $500 million, today the endowment would be worth $2.37 billion while providing $1.7 billion in student aid.

While not everyone wants or needs a college degree, everyone needs access to the job skills necessary to thrive in today’s economy. Measure 86 will help leverage private sector partnerships with community colleges to expand training opportunities. That’s a win for students who gain important skills, for the institutions that increase enrollment and businesses that gain access to a qualified workforce.

Measure 86 is a potential game changer when it comes to advanced education and job training. Don’t just take my word for it. A broad coalition has come together to support Measure 86:

Over time, Measure 86 will create a strong competitive advantage for Oregon’s economy – a permanent, growing endowment to develop and maintain a world-class workforce. I urge you to join a broad coalition of labor, business, education, and community leaders to vote Yes on Measure 86.

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