State Rep. Andy Olson: Don’t cut community colleges

Press Release from Rep. Andy Olson
As featured in Corvallis Gazette Times 2/16/09

The majority party in Salem is struggling with how to address the challenges facing Oregon. The state is facing a budget shortfall that could reach $2 billion and beyond. As a result, Gov. Ted Kulongoski and the Democrats are searching for any loose change they can find. They are actively considering billions of dollars in tax and fee increases. Now, they are looking to pick the pockets of Oregon’s community colleges.

The Legislative Fiscal Office recently asked all community colleges to make their ending fund balances as of Dec. 31, 2008, public.

The office believes that this will allow them to determine the colleges’ ability to handle cuts from the state to solve short-term budget deficits potentially totaling $1 billion.

It’s important to understand that the ending fund balance is not a separate savings account, but a true reserve that is encumbered by obligations colleges have already made but have not paid.

In light of the dramatic enrollment increase, expenses have sky rocketed. Meanwhile, the governor’s 2009-11 budget reduces community college revenues across the board.

Linn-Benton Community College will use this year’s ending fund balance for two main areas:

LBCC will pay for operations and expenses already obligated while they await the state’s fourth-quarter payment.

LBCC will contribute to the general fund to match science construction funding from the state and federal governments to help pay for the new science building.

Additionally, the college intends to use its ending-fund balance to manage the current reductions from the state.

Obviously, major cuts will be made this year to deal with the declining state of the economy. Community colleges, as well as other state agencies, must absorb the cuts and make necessary changes to their curriculums, operations, and personnel.

However, the state should not tap the college’s reserve accounts. Fiscally responsible colleges could potentially be affected by bad fiscal policy.

While everyone will have to absorb cuts, there are areas which need to be protected so that students and communities can still be served and survive.

Community colleges like LBCC are facing enrollments that are increasing dramatically in light of the recession.

Operational costs are also increasing, making it difficult for community colleges to plan for future expenses, making the reserve accounts that much more important.

In order to meet the demands of training a workforce and putting people back to work in this economy, keeping community colleges financially solvent is critical.

Picking the pockets of Oregon’s community colleges is a mistake that the state will regret for years to come.

Rep. Andy Olson, R-Albany, represents state House District 15, which includes North Albany.