Portland State University is trying to get support from businesses in Washington and Multnomah counties for a payroll tax measure, just a few months after lawmakers approved an additional $30 million for the state’s seven public universities.
Portland State University officials have not disclosed publicly the amount of the proposed payroll tax, which companies and self-employed individuals would pay. Scott Gallagher, director of communications for the university, said the payroll tax is just one option PSU officials are exploring to make college more affordable for students, who have taken on a greater share of the cost as government cut back funding to universities.
“In a nutshell, we’re looking at lots of different options for making college more affordable,” Gallagher said. The funding level appropriated by the Legislature is “not enough to meet the needs of our students ... we still need to raise tuition,” Gallagher said.
However, the proposed payroll tax raised concerns for state Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, said on her weekly radio show Oct. 9 that PSU appears to be going around the other state universities to get more money. The Legislature appropriated $700 million for all public universities over the next two years and $120 million in bonds for PSU building renovation, construction and a land purchase, The Portland Tribune reported.
“Portland State came in with Oregon State University and the University of Oregon, they all asked together for legislative support for their operating budgets,” Johnson said. “They got a very good number. And now Portland State says, ‘That’s not enough, we’ve gotta come back out and slap a payroll tax to support only Portland State on selected parts of the state?’ I question that.”
Although Gallagher said PSU has not yet determined the amount of tax it might seek, Johnson said it would have a “significant effect on employers in Washington and Multnomah County.”
“And I think there is a role for the legislature to be looking at those issues,” Johnson said.
Johnson said in an interview this week she heard about the tax proposal from a business that would be affected. The Metro Council could refer a payroll tax measure to the ballot, and PSU is just one of the entities that has approached individual Metro councilors to pitch potential tax measure referrals. However, Johnson said she heard the university so far has been unable to gain enough support on the council to bring the payroll tax measure forward. Jim Middaugh, communications director for Metro regional government, declined to comment on whether PSU had approached councilors.
“The Metro Council has had no formal discussions about whether or not to refer a measure for PSU,” Middaugh said Thursday.
Johnson discussed her concerns with Portland State University President Wim Wiewel.
Gallagher said during the 2015 legislative session, Oregon’s public universities asked for $755 million for the current two-year budget, which Gallagher described as the level of funding universities had in 2007. Gallagher said universities plan to return to Salem during the 2016 short session, to lobby lawmakers to appropriate the remaining $55 million they were unsuccessful in getting in 2015.