Our picks on the ballot measures

If you haven’t received your ballot for the Nov. 4 election, it should be arriving in the next day or two. Consequently, it’s time to make decisions on how to handle the dozen state measures and our local Measure 22-81, which would create a permanent tax to support the Linn County 4-H and Oregon State University Extension programs.

We offer the following observations on Measures 54 through 65. Our descriptions of the measures are very brief and we recommend perusal of the Voters’ Pamphlet you should have received in the mail or a visit to http://www.sos.state.or.us/elections/nov42008/guide/cover.html to find the full text and many more arguments on each one:

Measure 54: This would standardize voting eligibility for school board elections to allow those under 21 to vote in such elections where, previously, state law passed 60 years ago, required those voters to be 21 and meet other criteria. This simply resolves a conflict between federal and state laws. Yes.

Measure 55: Amends the constitution to change the operative date that redistricting goes into effect, allowing most legislators affected by redistricting to finish out their term in their original district.

This one was prompted by the fact that redistricting, which occurs during the year following each census, sometimes leaves legislators representing people for whom the legislator was not on the ballot in the previous election. We support this one. It will result in a more orderly transition after redistricting. Yes.

Measure 56: This is the fourth attempt by state legislators to do an end run around the fact that a 50-percent turnout of voters is required to approve a tax levy. We realize that there are difficulties with this arrangement, particularly for our local police and fire departments, because a non-voter appears to be a “no” vote in one of these elections.

However, if Measure 56 passes, in a low-turnout election, a mere 50 percent of those voting could raise our taxes. For instance, if 30 percent of voters turned out, your taxes could go up because 15 percent of the registered voters in the state or local district voted yes. We think a quorum of voters should show up for a tax election for it to count, just like it works with our city councils, legislatures and other voting bodies. No.

Measure 57: This measure is a legislative counterproposal to Measure 61 (see below), which requires stiffer sentences for various drug, theft, identity theft, forgery and burglary crimes. Measure 57 lightens those proposed sentences and includes mandated treatment programs for drug offenders.

We’re not against treatment, but we don’t believe government (our tax dollars) should be providing it, although there are benefits that come from some treatment programs. Measure 61 is better. No.

Measure 58: Limits teaching of public school students in languages other than English to two years. Many of us have ancestors who moved to the United States from countries where English was not the primary language. Many of our ancestors had to learn English and many of their children did so in public school – without extended instruction in their own languages. Voting “yes” on this measure forces immigrants to learn English, which is still the common language of Oregon and likely will be for generations to come.

It’s that simple. We value many of the contributions of immigrants, but they need to learn the common language, which will help them integrate into our society. Yes, there will be difficulties for some, but they chose to come here and those who are having problems can be assisted in other ways than mandated education in their own language. Yes.

Measure 59: Creates an unlimited deduction for federal income taxes, instead of the current limit which is generally $5,500, for federal income taxes on individual taxpayers’ Oregon income tax returns. This measure may benefit the wealthiest Oregonians more than you or us, but everyone should receive the same benefit. Some of us can claim our entire federal tax burden now. Everyone else should be able to do the same. Yes.

Measure 60: Requires that teacher pay raises be based on “classroom performance,” not seniority and that “most qualified” teachers will be retained, regardless of seniority, in the face of cuts. Critics have assailed this measure as unworkable and doomed to failure, but the Legislature and state school officials will have a chance to flesh out the details of how this is going to work. That’s not the greatest, but it does give some room for making it workable.

The principle is correct. Those who do well in the classroom should be rewarded and those don’t teach well should not be. This provides incentive for teachers, even the ones who have tenure and seniority, to do their best. Yes.

Measure 61: Creates mandatory minimum prison sentences for certain theft, identity theft, forgery, drug and burglary crimes. As noted above, this measure stiffens penalties for various crimes over what is mandated in Measure 57 and it does not include the provisions for drug treatment that are found in Measure 57.

The way to approach this one is that if you want stiffer penalties and you don’t believe government should be in the drug rehab business, vote yes for Measure 61 and no on Measure 57.

If you like Measure 57’s approach better, vote yes for it and no for Measure 61. We’re not excited about spending more money on prisons, which will be necessary if either measure passes, but we think the increased public safety and, hopefully, lessons learned on the part of offenders, makes the cost worth it. Yes.

Measure 62: This measure would amend the state constitution to allocate 15 percent of lottery proceeds to public safety funds for crime prevention, investigation and prosecution. This one forces us to prioritize what we think government’s role should be. If our government’s primary focus should be on public safety and law enforcement, with other things secondary, then this is a no-brainer.

The downside is it may impact our local schools, parks and wildlife habitats – agencies that have already been forced to tighten their belts. There have also been criticisms, including many in the Voters’ Pamphlet, that the money is being misdirected in the area of law enforcement. That’s a separate issue, one that the Legislature should address. Yes.

Measure 63: This measure would exempt some specified property owners who are doing improvements valued at up to $35,000 per year from having to secure building permits.

It’s true that building requirements in some communities are onerous and heavy-handed, and it’s easy to side with property owners who feel they have the right to make minor repairs or improvements to their land or buildings without having to kowtow to invasive and often bullying government officials.

At the same time, irresponsible building practices create financial impacts and safety problems that can affect neighbors, which is why there is a legitimate need for building codes. Inspections force people to be responsible and safe.

Measure 63 does include some safeguards, such as exceptions for electrical work. But this one is going to come down to how much you trust your neighbor (or yourself) to be a good citizen and good neighbor when it comes to putting on that room addition or building that shed.

It’s possible that building inspections could be done on a free-market basis, but we’re not optimistic. The fact that there are dishonest or incompetent mechanics out there is evidence that industry self-policing only can extend so far. Until that changes, we need assurance our buildings are safe. No.

Measure 64: Penalizes individuals or entities for using funds collected with “public resource” (defined in the measure) for “political purpose” (also defined). The main issue here is whether unions should be using money from tax-financed state resources for political purposes (Voter’s Pamphlet arguments, advertising).

We believe your tax money should not be used to target candidates and issues that the union does not agree with, no matter how just their cause. Yes.

Measure 65: Changes general election nomination processes for political parties, independent candidates for most partisan offices. It would essentially eliminate tax-funded private party primaries for most elections, replacing them with one open primary.

Oregon’s primary system forces voters to choose from candidates running under the banner of the party the voter is registered with. If you’re a Democrat, you have to choose from the one or more Democratic candidates running in the primary. If there’s only one and you don’t like him or her, you’re out of luck.

If you’re a third party, you can only nominate your candidate directly to the general election. This measure would radically change that, listing all candidates in the primary and allowing voters to select the one they prefer, regardless of party affiliation.

Only the top two primary vote-getters would compete in the general election. This measure could weaken the stranglehold that the two dominant parties have on our state politics. Also, our taxes are paying for what are essentially private political party primaries, which seems wrong. Washington and California have both adopted open-primary systems in recent years and it seems to be working, though some suggest it has led to a drift to the left.

We’re thinking that’s not the fault of the system. That’s what’s inside the heads of the voters.

This measure could create some opportunity for trickery through the use of ringers. It may not. Let’s give this a chance and see how it works out. We can change it later if it doesn’t go well. Yes.

Linn County Measure 22-81: This would create a small service district for Linn County 4-H and OSU Extension programs. The decline in federal forest timber payments has forced Linn Commissioners to make significant cuts in funding for county services across all departments.

The 4-H and Extension budget has been cut by one third. Passage of this measure would establish a permanent tax rate of 7 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value in Linn County. However, the district would not be required to charge a maximum rate of 7 cents.

Proponents argue that the lack of consistent funding from Federal Timber payments jeopardizes the future of the 4-H and Extension programs, which provide training for young people in agriculture and home economics, and farming, gardening and home economic advice and aid for county residents.

Seventeen other Oregon counties have established similar 4-H and Extension service districts.

There’s no question that these programs provide valuable services to local residents. They teach responsibility to children who are learning to get up in the wee hours of the morning to tend to livestock and they offer expertise to farmers and gardeners who need help. The question is simply whether everyone should pay for this.

Taxes are already steep and there are many services we could be forced to pay for. This particular tax is, admittedly, small compared to others we pay. (The owner of a $200,000 home would pay a maximum of $14 a year.)

We’re certainly appreciative and supportive of the services the district would provide, but we aren’t eager to advocate another tax. We also question whether this must be a government service.