ASUO President Beatriz Gutierrez decided if she had a chance to show legislators she was serious about the concerns of students, she would take it.
Gutierrez was one of 10 students arrested in Salem on May 14 during a protest against the “kicker.” A kicker is an excess amount of tax rebate money that the legislature has the power to allocate. This year, it is estimated to be about $349 million. If the kicker “kicks,” then that money will be returned to taxpayers in the form of a tax reduction in the coming year.
The Oregon Student Association has a different goal for kicker funds. One of OSA’s main concerns with regard to the legislative budget is funding for higher education and easing the growing burden of Oregon’s student debt. The OSA’s goal is to get enough money from the state to freeze tuition, $755 million for universities and $560 million for community colleges. OSA wants the kicker to contribute to that funding.
“Students are getting priced out, and that needs to stop,” Gutierrez said. “And to do that we need to stop raising tuition.”
The OSA frequently organizes lobbying events in Salem. On May 14, students decided to rally the Education Subcommittee of the Joint Committee on Ways and Means’ budget hearing for universities.
The Ways and Means Committee, made up of members of the Oregon House and Senate, determines the budget every two years and delegates specific portions of the budgeting process to the various subcommittees. OSA wanted to be present for this subcommittee’s discussion of the budget for Oregon universities.
In fact, they were determined not to be ignored. Students tried to engage lawmakers through various tactics, including lobbying and a sort of baseball-card exchange that encourages conversation about their issue.
“It’s sort of a tradition,” ASUO Chief of Staff Lamar Wise said. “We give legislators each others’ cards and they have to find their own.”
About 20 students then entered the hearing room and began a protest inside. Authorities escorted them out. The students then decided to lie down in the hallway outside the hearing, continuing to chant and holding signs that said, “Don’t kicker us while we’re down. Fund higher education.”
Gutierrez said she was one of 10 students who blocked a doorway where she lay. Those students were told to move or they would be arrested. They refused. State troopers then began arresting the students in the doorway.
They were taken to Marion County Jail and held in a holding room for several hours. Gutierrez said the arrests were made around 10:30 a.m., and students were not processed until 6 p.m. The OSA paid bail using its own funds. No student fees from any school went toward bail.
Four other University of Oregon students were also taken into custody: Yanely Rivas, Alfonso Macias, Anna Hoffer and Ednaly Jimenez.
The kicker debate will continue through June 30, when the rebate will become finalized. In the meantime, Gutierrez and the OSA plan on continuing efforts to lobby legislators to route funds toward higher education.
“My friends have been priced out of college. I think it’s also my responsibility as the president to take action on what students need,” Gutierrez said. “There’s just so many reasons that I feel that urgency.”