Last week, I was the only member of Council who voted No on the new "Education Urban Renewal District" around Portland State University and Lincoln High School. My comments at the vote went something like this:
I support higher education and especially the service that PSU offers as the largest university and the only urban university in the state. PSU is a great partner for the City of Portland.
I agree with President Wiewel when he says that “to be competitive in a global economy, the metropolitan area needs to be more innovative, more creative and more entrepreneurial.”
School funding for higher education and primary education continues to be inadequate due to Measure 5, and a Legislature that refuses to act to resolve the inequities and the recurring shortfalls. I can't support funding for buildings when we don't have enough money to pay the faculty to teach in them, or to provide tuition assistance for the students who will learn in them.
There are incentives for the various stakeholders in this URA:
- PSU receives money for both private and public construction projects in the campus vicinity.
- Portland Public Schools gets funding to rebuild Lincoln High School and stimulate the private development for the rest of their property.
- Multnomah County benefits with a Human Services building
- The City gets $46 million for affordable housing in an area that sorely needs it
- The Portland Development Commission is funded with $24 million for administrative staffing and overhead costs.
There are compelling reasons to support our regional university, PSU
- Synergistic aspects of this school with OHSU
- Business innovation
- Community research and outreach programs
- Government research and joint ventures
- Providing accessible high quality higher education for the surrounding region and a growing number of students
These things are happening whether we do the URA or not. And, I don't believe it is fair for Portland's taxpayers to pay for building up a university which is a regional asset.
While I strongly believe the underlying problems with state funding of k-12 and higher education school funding must be fixed first, before we do any more buildings, for me the final decision turns on 2 issues.
One, the interpretation of Blight is weak. It is based upon underutilization of land, which could be much more easily made in many other areas of the City.
Two, and more importantly, we the City and the taxpayers of Portland citywide, are forgoing $60 million in taxes that would ordinarily be available for use citywide in the General Fund.
- We are already cutting back in many basic services like public safety, parks, and transportation.
- Each year less goes to the general fund and more goes to paying off debt generated by Urban Renewal Districts.
- Even proportionally when you compare the present value of money lost from the City in foregone revenue over the life of the district against what is then gained in year 2046 ($507,000), it doesn’t make sense to strap current and future city residents with that debt and with the reduction in city maintenance and city services.
I applaud PSU and what it is endeavoring to accomplish as a regional and state university. I believe it is well on its way to achieving that goal. This is not the time to take taxpayers' money from citywide basic services to earmark them for this project. I must respectfully vote NO.