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Taxpayers on hook for OSHU-NIKE deal?

March 11, 2014

By Steve Buckstein
Cascade Policy Institute

When Phil and Penny Knight announced last September* that they would offer $500 million to OHSU for cancer research if the public matched their gift, it understandably led to an outpouring of positive comments and support. But then, OHSU wanted state taxpayers to come up with $200 million of the match through a building bond. That resulted in much less positive press and some outright criticism.

Now, OHSU has modified its ask so that a $200 million building bond will be in addition to the $500 million it will try to raise from voluntary donors. That would mean a total of $1.2 billion in cancer research funds stemming from the Knight challenge.

Either way it’s presented, though, asking taxpayers to repay $200 million plus interest to house cancer researchers and clinical trial space is a questionable proposition.

Some proponents are counting on this deal to make Oregon the go-to state for top cancer researchers. But at least 67 other National Cancer Institute designated cancer centers nationwide are already competing for recognition and talent with OSHU. Other states are funding some of these centers already. It would be wonderful if future breakthroughs in cancer research came from Oregon, but this is not within our state government’s control.

Philanthropy is admirable, but forcing taxpayers to help match a private gift is a move in the wrong direction. Forced charity isn’t charity…it’s just force.

Steve Buckstein is founder and Senior Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

*Audio recording incorrectly lists date of announcement as last November instead of last September.

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Bob Clark March 11, 2014

This is truly wrong. OHSU could have borrowed these monies itself, as it has an A credit rating and only pays less than a percentage point more in interest rate than does the State of Oregon on General Obligation bond. This isn’t really in conformance with the concept of matching donations either, as state funds are provided for by taxes forced on a sizeable number of unsupportive Oregonians.

This legislative action is more indicative of financial malfeasance on the part of the Oregon legislature, as it reflects the same old bad habit of spending everything during normal or better economic times and not having saved for covering down economic times.

Steve Buckstein March 11, 2014

After this column was written, the Oregon legislature overwhelmingly approved the OHSU bond deal. It substitutes political priorities for the priorities of individual Oregonians who might want their hard-earned money to support other charitable endeavors.

Any of us are free to donate toward the Knight cancer center match on our own, but now the legislature has, in effect, commanded us to do so. Nothing against cancer research, but this political action is not becoming a free society.

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