Yes on Measure 69
April 21, 2010 05:00 am

Ballot Measure 69 is the second of two mind-numbing constitutional amendments referred to the May ballot by the 2009 Legislature. Unlike the first, Measure 68, this one deserves support.

Measure 68 is objectionable largely because it would tinker unnecessarily with Oregon’s method of funding the construction of local schools. Facilities are now paid for primarily with local bond issues. The measure would allow legislators to put a big chunk of the bill on the state’s credit card.

Measure 69 pertains to the construction of educational facilities, too. There’s a theme here. But this measure focuses on facilities used by community colleges and public universities, and it leaves the state’s role largely intact. Meanwhile, the ways in which it would change the constitution make sense.

The constitution allows colleges and universities to finance such projects through the use of general obligation bonds, which are known for their relatively low interest. Measure 69 would change two parts of the constitution dealing with such bonds. The most meaningful change would give colleges and universities explicit authority to spend bond money not only on new facilities, which they may do now, but also on existing facilities. Sometimes it’s easier to buy a building than to build a brand new one.

Such authority could save the Oregon Institute of Technology (OIT) millions, said college President Christopher Maples. OIT would like to consolidate its four campuses in the Portland area, but building a new facility would cost roughly twice as much as buying an existing building. Without the authority to use general obligation bonds, however, the school would have to use certificates of participation, which carry a higher interest rate. Over the 30-year life of the loan, that could cost OIT an extra $2 million. The school would have to pass along that cost, said Maples, and students would inevitably pay some of it.

The measure also would make a few minor technical changes. These concern such things as allowable sources of matching funds for general obligation bonds. These tweaks are either innocuous or positive and, in any case, far less meaningful than the flexibility the measure would provide. If buying an existing building is cheaper than building a new one, colleges and universities should be allowed to buy with low-cost bonds.