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A closer look at Oregon’s complex ballot measures

Oregon voters will decide the fate of nine ballot issues at the polls Nov. 6, some of which are complex and have been misunderstood in spite of the ads, debates and Internet blog discussions.

The Brookings group of the League of Women Voters (LOWV) met Wednesday to discuss the two referendums and six initiatives and what they mean.

The county LOWV groups take no side on ballot issues, but try to educate voters so they can make informed decisions. The state League of Women Voters can, and this year has, expressed its opinion on four measures.

 

Measure 77

Ballot Measure 77 was referred to voters by the state legislature, and would change the Constitution to give the state more flexibility in responding to emergencies.

A “yes” vote would require the legislature to convene within 30 days of an emergency – and, if needed, in an alternate place and with at least two-thirds of its membership – to determine how the emergency should be addressed. The state LOWV took no stand on this issue.

“When the tsunami hit, local emergency agencies didn’t even know there were live-aboards at the port,” said Jan Krick, president of the local LOWV. “They didn’t know they didn’t have water, electricity, heat. That’s what happens in a disaster. People say, “Who does that?’”

Measure 78

Ballot Measure 78, also referred to voters, would clean up verbiage in the Constitution to better reflect modern terminology; the state LOWV group supports this measure.

Measure 79

Ballot Measure 79, which has arguably received the most publicity in recent months, would pre-empt state and local governments from implementing a real estate transfer tax (RETT), which is imposed when a property is sold.

Supporters, mostly realtors, say such a tax represents double-taxation. Additionally, they note, property owners already pay taxes, and such a tax would make home ownership that much more difficult. While details can be changed in a home sale, usually RETTs are borne by the seller, which could further strap someone trying to sell a home that is “under water.”

“The problem exists in Curry County,” said local LOWV vice-president Al Wilson. “It’s a bit more complex than the real estate people are giving it credit for.”

The LOWV, at the state level, opposes this measure.

Measure 80

Ballot Measure 80, for which LOWV has no opinion, would permit the growing and use of marijuana for personal use and form a commission to regulate it and commercial cultivation and sales.

The statutory measure would allow a commission to set standards and collect fees, much as it does for alcohol. The bulk of fees and taxes collected would go to the general fund, 7 percent would fund drug treatment programs and 1 percent would each support promotion of Oregon-grown hemp fiber, biodiesel and school drug-education program.

Opponents of the measure agree that, of the three states considering similar initiatives, Oregon’s is the most vague. They also note that, even if approved, the mandate would fly in the face of federal law, which still prohibits marijuana cultivation, sale and consumption.

“What brought Prohibition to an end was the states balking and making Congress take a stand,” Wilson noted. “What changed was the ability to tax. Marijuana is not the poison-pill it was 10 or 15 years ago.”

Measure 81

Ballot Measure 81 would prohibit gillnet fishing in the Columbia River, with the exception of tribal fishers. About 200 non-tribal fishers use this method to catch salmon.

Supporters note that this method of fishing is indiscriminate, catching other wildlife and endangered salmon and steelhead. Opponents say the measure could kill the commercial fishing industry in the area.

Gov. John Kitzhaber has directed the state Fish and Wildlife Commission and Department of Fish and Wildlife to work with their counterparts in Washington to develop a compromise, and feels this measure would change the rules too quickly. The state LOWV has no stand on the issue.

Measure 82

Ballot Measure 82 would permit privately owned casinos in the state, while Measure 83 would do the same in Wood Village, a suburb of Portland.

Both measures tout the revenue casinos would bring into the state’s general fund, but detractors cite the effects of such businesses on tribal casinos and crime. They also note that, while gambling often serves as a “regressive tax” on those least able to afford it, betting is also a personal choice.

Again, the LOWV does not oppose nor support the issue.

Measure 84

Ballot Measure 84 would phase out inheritance taxes and intra-family property sales. It, too, is another measure that has caused confusion among voters, Wilson noted. The state LOWV is opposed to the measure.

The tax break would only affect those whose properties are worth more than $1 million, as those with properties valued less than that are already exempt. It would also exempt farm, forestry or fishing property valued up to $7.5 million.

“This is a tax break for the wealthy,” Wilson said. “Regular people are already not taxed.”

Measure 85

Measure 85 would redirect so-called “corporate kicker” tax revenue to the general fund and dedicated to education. Currently, that excess revenue is returned to the corporation. The state LOWV supports this measure.

Opponents say although funds are to be spent on k-12 education, wording is vague enough to allow the legislature to allocate the funds elsewhere. Others say it would be better to put the money into a rainy-day fund to use in years of low revenue.

The LOWV has a website, www.VOTE411.org, where those interested can read nonpartisan analysis of ballot measures and print out a mock ballot to help voters remind themselves how they want to vote. The site does ask for a person’s address, but that information is only used to determine the district in which a voter resides.

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