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PSU forges alliance with business community, drops payroll tax idea

Business community commits to a plan to raise $25 million for student support

TRIBUNE PHOTO: SHASTA KEARNS MOORE - PSU President Wim Wiewel, left, and Greg Ness, chairman of the Oregon Business Council, discuss an alliance during a May 6 press conference that could lead the university to drop its payroll tax plan.Portland’s business community has sidestepped a potential payroll tax by joining together with Portland State University on a promise to come up with a minimum of $25 million per year by 2019.

The new College Affordability and Success Coalition includes the Portland Business Alliance, which opposed a Portland State University Foundation-backed ballot measure petition for a 0.1 percent tax on annual salaries across the region. The $30 million to $70 million the campaign anticipated raising through the tax was to go to scholarships, staff and wrap-around services.

Asked if this was the plan all along, PSU President Wim Wiewel laughed.

“I’m not that smart,” Wiewel said.

“I would agree with that,” joked Greg Ness, chairman of the Oregon Business Council and head of The Standard insurance company.

Ness said a collaborative approach was good for the region. He added that the tax plan was not the best way to serve what he agreed was a big need for support of PSU students.

“Wim and I actually agree on a lot of things,” Ness said. “That disagreement was really about the mechanism and not really the need.”

The announcement at 11 a.m. Friday, May 6, was light on specifics of where this new money would come from. The coalition’s working group plans to look at several avenues, said Ness, including lobbying the legislature for more state funding, coming up with ways to incentivize donations to the PSU Foundation, as well as direct philanthropic contributions. Coalition members will also look at a “new regional funding source,” and Ness said some sort of new tax is not off the table.

The 10 new coalition board members are a range of business elites, from Columbia Sportswear CEO Tim Boyle to Northwest Natural President David Anderson.


The decision clears away one political hurdle for a local business community facing a $2.6 billion gross receipts tax hike in the spectre of Initiative Petition 28, a minimum wage increase and a recent announcement from the mayor's office seeking a new business tax.

Portland Public Schools district is also expected to ask voters for another construction bond in November, crowding the field for education support.

Intel, the region's largest private employer, declined to comment on the announcement.

A spokesman for Oregon State University, Steve Clark, affirmed the need for more higher education funding and applauded the new coalition, but declined to take a position on the payroll tax.

"You just can’t operate higher education in a vacuum,” Clark said, noting expected increases in expenses through the Public Employee Retirement System, minimum wage, needy students, and construction projects.

Jim Moore, a political scientist with Pacific University, said these creative ways of looking for funding of higher education might be the new norm as universities are more autonomous from the state.

"The thing that’s really different here is Portland State is now newly independent from state control,” Moore said. "It’s something that we’re going to see as these state universities flex their new independence.”

Shasta Kearns Moore
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