Measures give voters wide range of choices, some divisive

Oregonians, including we Linn County residents, face a challenging list of measures this week as those of us who have yet to cast ballots prepare to do so.

Not only do we actually have a governor’s race that features candidates who actually have significantly different views on things and a challenger who brings real experience to the table, but we get to choose whether we want to change the way primary elections are conducted, or whether marijuana should be legal, or whether we want to pony up the money for big improvements to our local community college.

Today we’ll offer some thoughts and analysis of some of those measures for readers who have yet to make their decisions.

We’ll skip our county candidates because Sheriff Bruce Riley, Recorder Steve Druckenmiller and County Commissioner John Lindsay are running unopposed.

The Linn-Benton Community College Bond Measure is one that local voters will need to weigh in on, simply because it’s our money they want to spend. The pain is lessened by the fact that we’re already paying off an existing bond at exactly 18 cents per $1,000 of assessed value or, for an average property owner, about $36 per year, and this new one would basically just extend that.

Our first inclination when government asks for money is to wonder how efficiently it will be used and how many already well-compensated public employees are going to benefit from this at our expense. This may sound penurious, but it’s a concern we all should have – particularly those of us who understand how little incentive these people really have to work hard for us if they don’t find it within themselves.

Having said that, though, the goals of this measure are beneficial: training facilities for programs like welding, vehicle service technicians and alternative fuels – fields in which there is big opportunity and a shortage of workers. That’s a plus for local employers and companies. The bond will also help build a healthcare training facility in Lebanon, which is also beneficial to Sweet Home and its residents.

Those who wonder why they haven’t heard more about this should know that LBCC itself is prohibited by law from stumping for it. That role has fallen to a political action committee and, judging by the lack of publicity – a few signs planted along major highways and a general mailing has been about it other than the reports you’ve seen in this (Oct 8) and other newspapers – we don’t think they’ve done a real good job of presenting their case.

However, the benefits are significant enough that approving this bond may be worth paying what we’ve essentially been paying for another 15 years. That’s the issue before us.

We have similar concerns about Measure 86, the Opportunity Initiative, as it is called, which would create a constitutionally dedicated permanent fund that will be invested to generate income to increase student aid grants. The reasoning is that this investment will allow Oregon to build and maintain the highly trained workforce that employers need.

Currently, our constitution prohibits the state from issuing bonds to create an endowment or accept private philanthropy. Measure 86 would change the constitution to allow that in this case and authorize lawmakers to lock the endowment so that it cannot be used for general government purposes.

A lot of people who are concerned about Oregon’s future support this measure and there are good reasons for seeking to develop ways to help students pay for college.

Students in the Oregon University System or Oregon community colleges pay 18 percent more in tuition than the country on average and tuition and fees in the Oregon University System rose 50 percent from 2004 to 2012. Only two of 10 eligible students who apply currently receive an Oregon opportunity grant, and it is worth just $2,000 a year.

According to the state Treasurer’s Office, which is backing the measure, Oregon ranks 47th among states when it comes to state assistance for higher education. At the same time, the Oregon Legislature has been steadily shrinking the state’s share of public university costs. That means more of the cost is being shifted to families, but with anemic state assistance.

There’s no question this is a need in Oregon. The question voters need to decide, though, is whether the state should increase its indebtedness and whether it is a reliable agent to manage a fund for this purpose. Is this the way to go or should the state focus, as some opponents of this measure have suggested, on better preparing K-12 students for college or offering incentives to get private industry more involved in helping students get to and complete college.

Sweet Home’s charter amendment really contains little that we see as problematic or controversial, and the same is generally true of state Measure 87, which would allow judges who serve in the National Guard or teach at public universities to get paid (which they currently can’t be), and Measure 89, which would constitutionally prohibit gender-based discrimination. Since federal law and a state Supreme Court decision have long clearly established that, we wonder why advocates of this measure are suddenly concerned that our constitution is deficient in this, particularly given that rights provided by the U.S. Constitution outweigh our state charter. This looks like window dressing to us, more than anything.

Measure 88: The Oregon Alternative Driver Licenses Referendum, subjects Senate Bill 833, which makes four-year driver’s licenses available to those who can’t prove they are legal residents in the United States, to a popular vote.

Currently, the Oregon Department of Transportation requires proof of legal residency before it issues “driver cards” to Oregon residents. If approved, this measure would require only that applicants meet specific eligibility requirements, but would not require proof of legal presence.

Oregon is one of approximately 25 states that have considered changes to their license requirements in the past year.

While Gov. John Kitzhaber and a plethora of organizations support this measure, opponents include an Oregon Sheriffs PAC and retired Linn County Sheriff Tim Mueller.

Supporters say it would be nice to know who’s behind the wheel out there, because we know illegals must be driving. Opponents question whether we should reward illegal behavior with what essentially is state sanction of their presence in Oregon