SALEM — The state House on Wednesday approved funding increases for Oregon's universities and community colleges for the first time in years, but administrators say they'll still have to raise tuition charges to make ends meet.
Several lawmakers opposed the universities budget as too small, but it passed easily in a 48-12 vote. Community college funding was approved, 58-0. Both budgets go next to the Senate.
Declining state support has forced colleges and universities to shift more of the burden to students through higher tuition, saddling students with debt, critics say.
"We have continued our disinvestment in higher education in this state to the point where it's pitiful," said Rep. Mitch Greenlick, a Portland Democrat who voted against the budget.
Rep. Phil Barnhart, D-Eugene, said he'd vote for the bill "with a painful heart" because it was the highest lawmakers could go with the available dollars.
"The Legislature has consistently failed...to raise the revenue to pay for basic services," Barnhart said.
The State Board of Higher Education meets Friday to set university tuition for next school year. Most schools have requested increases of 4 percent to 6 percent in student costs. Community college governing boards have already set tuition for next year.
Colleges and universities are among the first in line to get additional funding if budget negotiations result in a compromise that would bring additional state revenue. A deal could provide enough money to reduce or eliminate tuition increases, administrators say.
Lawmakers have been working for weeks on a compromise between Democrats, who want to raise upward of $200 million in additional tax revenue, and Republicans, who want more than $1 billion in savings from reductions in retirement benefits for government employees.
Legislators from both parties agree that most of the additional revenue from a deal would go to education at all levels — primary and secondary schools, community colleges and universities — but they've been unable to agree on how to get there.
Under the two bills approved Wednesday, funding for community colleges over the next two years would be $55 million dollars higher than for the two-year budget cycle that ends June 30 — an increase of about 14 percent. Money for the university system would go up about 8 percent.