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Measure 86 would allow a prudent investment

Oregonians have an opportunity Nov. 4 to give lawmakers the ability to help Oregon students attend college and pursue vocational and technical job training while incurring less debt by creating a permanent scholarship fund. Voters should approve Ballot Measure 86.

The 2103 Legislature put the Measure 86 on the ballot at the request of State Treasurer Ted Wheeler. The measure would direct the Legislature to create a permanent Oregon Student Opportunity Fund, investing the proceeds and spending only the earnings, not the principal, to grant scholarships to Oregon students.

Lawmakers could use any or all of a variety of funding sources, including private donations from industry and others concerned about enlarging the state's educated workforce, direct appropriations from the state's general fund, or state-issued bonds. The general fund would make payments on the bonds, currently available at a rate of 3 percent to 3.5 percent. 

The bonding option has generated what opposition there is to this measure. It would amend the Oregon Constitution, which prohibits issuing state debt for more than $50,000 for any single purpose. Needless to say, the constitution has been amended many times to authorize bonds for legitimate public purposes.

The state's total bond debt may not exceed 1 percent of the value of all property in the state — a very conservative limit. Measure 86 would not allow the state to exceed that limit, nor would it require lawmakers to issue bonds, only give them the option. The Student Opportunity Fund would compete with all other state funding priorities, subject to that overall limit.

The need for more college assistance is not in question. Oregon ranks 47th among the state in per-capita funding for higher education. As a result, tuition and fees have increased more than 50 percent in an eight-year period. The state does provide Oregon Opportunity Grants, but the program has never had enough funding to meet the demand. Only 1 in 5 Oregon students who applies actually receives aid, and some students receive aid one year and not the next.

Without the authority granted by Measure 86, the Legislature could not issue bonds to create the endowment, nor accept private philanthropy. The measure also authorizes lawmakers to lock the endowment so that it cannot be used for general government purposes. The only exception is a clause that would require the governor to declare an emergency, allowing the Legislature to use money from the fund for any lawful purpose as long as there was a plan to pay it back.

Measure 86 allows lawmakers the flexibility to create a protected fund that would grow through investments, with the proceeds proving scholarships for Oregon students. We recommend a yes vote.