Murmurs: Other Universities Contest Beaver Lottery Grab

In other news: Two commissioners question neutrality of city’s voter outreach.

Beavers fans. (Oregon State University)

OTHER UNIVERSITIES CONTEST BEAVER LOTTERY GRAB: Since Oregon State University got left behind in the 2023 implosion of the Pac-12 Conference, OSU lobbyists have been working industriously to backfill the $35 million in conference media payments the university will lose starting next year. One request OSU lobbyists slid under legislative leaders’ doors at the beginning of the short session: $20 million in new funding from the Oregon Lottery over the next two years (the lottery already allocates money to universities). In a pointed Feb. 13 response, the presidents of Oregon’s other six public universities submitted their own request for lottery funding, in an equal amount but excluding Oregon State. The six presidents noted in their letter that OSU, along with its fellow Pac-12 orphan Washington State, won a $255 million court judgment against the conference in December. Their none-too-subtle point: Oregon State may be flush and is, in any case, not the only Oregon university trying to figure out how to pay for athletics. “Should the Oregon Legislative Assembly see fit to increase the amount of lottery funding dedicated to university student athletic programs, [we request] these funds be equitably distributed annually among all of Oregon’s universities,” the presidents wrote. Any higher ed funding this session is likely to be part of the last-minute “Christmas tree bill” that will come together shortly before the March 10 close of the session.

TWO COMMISSIONERS QUESTION NEUTRALITY OF CITY’S VOTER OUTREACH: Last fall, the city of Portland awarded a $675,000 contract to the United Way of the Columbia-Willamette to conduct voter education ahead of Portland’s November 2024 election. That election will be the first to use geographic districts and ranked-choice voting in city races. But two city commissioners—Rene Gonzalez and Dan Ryan—are calling into question the neutrality of that outreach, particularly because United Way will distribute $210,000 of the funds to community nonprofits, some of which will likely have political arms, or 501(c)(4)s, allowed to endorse City Council and mayoral candidates. The two commissioners say that’s a conflict of interest, and want the city to ban organizations’ political arms from endorsing city candidates this fall if their 501(c)(3)s receives outreach funds. Ryan chief of staff T.J. McHugh laid out his boss’s demand in an email: “If an organization wishes to endorse a measure or candidate, they [should] be disqualified from conducting voter outreach.” United Way did not respond to a request for comment.

VEGA PEDERSON WANTS TO DELAY PRESCHOOL TAX INCREASE: Multnomah County’s Preschool for All tax on high-income earners to fund tuition-free preschool is set to increase by 53% in 2026. That hike is baked into the 2020 ballot measure that county voters passed to create the tax and universal preschool program. But now Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson is asking county commissioners to delay the increase by one year. She points to new revenue projections that show the program would be adequately funded if the tax increase were postponed until 2027. “[This board] has full authority to update the ordinance as needed to ensure we have a fair and effective revenue structure and the resources to fulfill our obligation to voters to create a universal preschool program by 2030,” Vega Pederson said at a Feb. 27 meeting of the county board. Delaying the tax increase by one year would align with the three-year tax moratorium Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek proposed earlier this year. As WW has reported, the county has struggled to spend the money it’s already collected to build up the infrastructure needed to create entirely new preschool slots.

STATE EXPECTS THOUSANDS OF CONVICTIONS AFTER MEASURE 110 ROLLBACK: A Feb. 26 analysis by the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission estimates that 2,257 people would be convicted of drug possession misdemeanors each year under the latest proposal by Democratic lawmakers to recriminalize possession of hard drugs. The bill, currently being debated by state legislators, would make possession of small amounts of fentanyl, meth and heroin an “unclassified” misdemeanor with a penalty of up to 180 days in jail. The result, the CJC has found, would be thousands of additional convictions, with a disproportionate number of them landing on Black Oregonians. The estimates were based on 2019 data and take into account the various diversion programs that are being baked into the bill to give people arrested with drugs ways to avoid charges. State analysts also looked at a provision of the proposed deal that would make it easier to prosecute drug dealers through “Boyd deliveries,” when someone is charged with possession of drugs they “intend” to deal. The Oregon Supreme Court affirmed last year that simply having a large quantity of drugs wasn’t sufficient evidence to prove intent to deliver. The number of Boyd convictions has plummeted as a result. The CJC estimates that an additional 111 people would be convicted of delivery under the new law, which also includes tougher sentences for dealing near parks or treatment centers.

OPEN PRIMARY INITIATIVE CRATERS: Oregon will for a while longer remain one of nine states in which voters unaffiliated with a major party are shut out of primary elections. That’s the import of a Feb. 26 announcement by All Oregon Votes, the group that proposed Initiative Petition 26. It hoped to put the open-primary question on the November ballot but ran into a logjam of competing good-governance ideas. “We are currently competing for attention with other pro-democracy reforms, such as campaign contribution limits, redistricting reform and ranked-choice voting,” the group said in a statement. “We believe we can attract more civic engagement as solutions to those and other reform issues emerge.” Filings with the secretary of state show the campaign raised under $2,000, far less than the mid-six figures it would need to mount a serious signature gathering effort. So for now, the 43% of Oregon voters who are neither Democrats nor Republicans will remain partially disenfranchised, while their partisan friends continue to vote in state-sponsored closed primaries.

Correction: All Oregon Votes also had a second political action committee, which raised an additional $65,289. WW regrets the error.

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