Kulongoski tells Obama: Want stimulus? Fix the universities.

Governor Kulongoski has a brilliant idea - and he's put it in writing to President-elect Obama: Rapidly fire up a stimulus package by spending money on deferred maintenance at public colleges and universities. After all, the projects are already quantified and itemized, don't require lengthy approvals (as transportation infrastructure does), and would inject money into both urban and rural places.

From the O:

Kulongoski said he plans to send a letter to President-elect Barack Obama's transition team with a proposal to direct billions in federal stimulus dollars to cover deferred maintenance at colleges in Oregon and around the nation.

If they want to do something with an immediate impact, he said, "they should poll all 50 states and say, 'We want to know what your deferred maintenance is on your university campuses.'" Oregon's backlog is about $650 million, he said. ...

Under his plan, the government would commit to starting work within six months of Obama signing the order. That would be possible, he said, because colleges have the projects lined up and ready to go. They just need the money.

Needs on Oregon campuses range from new ventilation systems to electrical wiring overhauls in aging buildings, according to a report by the Oregon University System. Oregon State University has the biggest need, with about $228 million in deferred maintenance. Next is Portland State, with $167 million in needs.

"The one thing about these kinds of projects is, we have been thinking about them, quantifying them and planning them for a long time," said George Pernsteiner, Oregon's higher education chancellor. "It's not like we have to make them up out of whole cloth."


  • Douglas K. (unverified)

    Nice idea, but it's too narrow. Yes, public universities have a lot of deferred maintenance. So do elementary, middle and high schools in almost every school district. So do a lot of police stations, fire stations, courthouses, libraries, community centers, and public administration buildings. (Among others.) There are a lot of public parks that need renovation as well.

    Congress could inject a lot of money into our economy, FAST, by simply providing 80% funding for deferred maintenance projects on any and all public buildings and parks. Let the relevant state or local governments come up with 20% of the funding and a commitment to start work within 90 days after receiving federal funds, and have at it.

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    Doing it for more public buildings (all schools, courthouses, etc.) would be great. But I think this is a good start. This is something that could be pushed through quickly and begun while Congress discusses increasing it to more projects.

    Getting people to work on universities, colleges, schools, roads, courthouses, etc. puts people to work at a good wage. Then those people support the economy around them, which in turn creates and supports other jobs.

    When the unemployment levels are this high (and steadily climbing), you're not going to be able to make things better without getting people to work. And fixing the things that are collectively ours (schools, universities, roads, parks, etc.), we're benefiting society in more ways than one.

  • conspiracyzach (unverified)

    Gee, this accumulated backlog does not have anything to do with the arms race in sports spending does it? Frohnmayers real legacy will be the guy who neglected basic needs at UO and turned it into a international sports marketing joke . UO has over 150 million in deferred maintenance and the total rises 9-12 million each year. The amount of deferred maintenance in the UO athletic department is unknown. Blame should also be placed on the media for this. Instead of focusing on the details of complicated issues they give us junk news about how a lost dog was found by its owner somewhere on the east coast.

  • Eric Parker (unverified)

    "Doing it for more public buildings (all schools, courthouses, etc.) would be great"

    Some of our most precious and historical buildings in Oregon were made during a simular program (WPA) under FDR. Ted has finally got his head in the right place on this one.

  • Dan Gicker (unverified)

    Talk of infrastructure investment has become strangely sexy now (just ask Rachel Maddow). It's important for the functionality improved infrastructure provides. But as an economic stimulus, well maybe not so much. This post at the Oregon Economic Blog states it depends how the money is spent. If the money is spent hiring outside contractors, then there is a multiplier effect which would produce the most stimulus. If the money is retained by the universities and infrastructure projects are done in house, then not so much stimulus. As always the devil is in the details.

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    Dan G:

    I'd imagine that it's going to be a mix. Some jobs are going to be small and will be done in-house. Others are much larger, like the roof problems that Mt. Hood Community College has (and I'm sure is pretty common throughout the state's colleges and universities). Major work needs to be done on the roof to stop water leakage into the buildings. Not to mention structural work for seismic upgrades.

    Those aren't things that could be easily done in-house.

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    If the money is spent hiring outside contractors, then there is a multiplier effect which would produce the most stimulus.

    Dan, as long as they are Oregon contractors, preferably using union labor, then I see stimulus everywhere. If you meant outside contractors such as fly-by-night, out-of-state lowballing outfits, then I don't agree at all. We need to put Oregonians to work, not an out of state workforce.

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    I think the distinction is between already employed university staff and hiring an outside contractor/company.

    Some funds may go towards projects that staff already employed by the university may be able to do. The funds for those projects would just end up covering supplies, any added time the employee(s) has to work for the project, etc. That would be a very small impact to the economy.

    But I think by and large the bulk of the funds are going to go to projects that have become large problems. This includes things like roofs, seismic upgrades, structural work, electrical work, etc. For these you'd need to hire outside contractors/companies to do the work. This would have a larger impact on the economy.

    For too long, the emphasis on public projects is lowest bid wins. I think for something like this we need to be able to take into consideration putting Oregonians to work at a good wage. I'm partial to unions, but I have to say that I've also known small contractors who treated their workers even better than they'd get under a union, and therefore one was never formed. I wouldn't want to overlook those just because they weren't union.

  • Dan Gicker (unverified)

    Mark, perhaps placing conditions on stimulus funds like they must use Oregon union labor for repairs would be an important component of the plan.

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)

    I'm generally in favor of infrasturcture investment and taking care of deferred maintenac issues for public buildings. It is a bothersome detail as to WHY maintnace was deferred however.

    <h2>As to all those above naively calling for union labor; the federal Davis-Bacon Act would take care of that by calling for prevailing wages due to the use of public funds.</h2>
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