The most important thing voters should know about ballot Measure 76 is that it's completely unnecessary. It asks voters to make a decision now that they'd otherwise make in 2014. Don't Oregonians and their elected leaders have enough to worry about these days without borrowing policy debates from the future?
Measure 76 is backed by The Nature Conservancy, which spent more than $1 million getting it on the ballot. In simple terms, it would extend the effects of a 1998 ballot measure indefinitely. That measure - Measure 66 - dedicated 15 percent of Oregon State Lottery funds to parks and wildlife habitat. The set-aside sunsets in 2015, but Measure 66 requires a vote in 2014 that would give Oregonians a chance to extend it.
In essence, Measure 76 simply moves the question forward by four years. If it doesn't pass, however, the 2014 vote will still occur.
You don't have to be a public policy junkie to recognize The Nature Conservancy's bad timing. Most of the lottery funds Measure 66 pulls aside for recreational and environmental uses would otherwise be available for public schools, which these days are struggling. School districts wouldn't see any of that lottery money for a few years anyway, but it's hard to imagine a worse time to dangle millions of dollars in redirected school funding in front of teachers' faces and ask, "Can we have this forever?"
Because Measure 76 sets up a battle between environmental groups and public education supporters - two core Democratic constituencies - legislative leaders have engaged in some damage control and promised a "fix." If Measure 76 passes, according to The Oregonian, the Legislature intends to place a follow-up measure on the 2011 ballot that would limit its potential harm to public schools. Among other things, the promised 2011 measure would allow lawmakers to keep the 15 percent lottery set-aside in times of crisis.
To recap: In a matter of weeks, Oregonians will weigh in on a completely unnecessary ballot measure that will require a damage-control measure in 2011. Voters should save themselves (and legislators) a substantial headache and vote "no." This is a matter that can wait until 2014.