Board votes unanimously to pursue 'college affordability proposal'

TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Portland State University President Wim Wiewel

Portland State University is likely to ask voters to sign an initiative petition to create a new payroll tax in the region, after a unanimous vote Thursday evening of its board of trustees.

Officials are calling the plans for an initiative petition a "college affordability proposal," as the university aims to use the funds to offer scholarships to local students, as well as hire new faculty and support staff.

The ballot proposal would create a payroll tax paid by businesses within Metro of one-tenth to two-tenths of 1 percent. PSU officials estimate that would raise about $30 million to $70 million per year.

The tax is patterned off of a payroll tax for TriMet transportation services and would be administered through Metro regional government.

Portland State University President Wim Wiewel told the Portland Tribune in October that he began floating the idea after getting fed up with low state funding levels. Wiewel said asking businesses to pay to educate the workforce they rely on makes sense.

University of Oregon President Michael Schill has similar complaints of a lack of state funding but says such a proposal wouldn't work in Eugene as there isn't enough economic activity.

If the board approves the proposal on a second read in January, PSU will need thousands of signatures to push the plan to the ballot in 2016.

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