Don’t lock up lottery funds

July 31, 2010 06:00 am

While we like parks, salmon and other wildlife as much as the next person, we’re decidedly less taken with a proposal to permanently dedicate 15 percent of state lottery receipts to their well-being. Doing so serves Oregon poorly.

Currently, the Oregon Constitution sets aside 15 percent of lottery receipts for state parks, fish and other wildlife habitat. The provision doing so is set to be repealed automatically in 2014, however, unless Oregonians vote to change that.

Secretary of State Kate Brown announced Tuesday that supporters of the proposal to make the Parks and Natural Resources Fund permanent had gathered enough signatures to send it to the ballot.

Making the set-aside permanent is a bad idea, just as it was a bad idea when first approved in 1999. Putting lottery funds into specific locked boxes makes it impossible to change the way gaming proceeds are spent.

Oregonians in 2010 have no idea what the state’s financial needs will be in five, 10 or 15 years. They cannot predict whether the state will be able to spend any lottery funds on state parks in 15 years or whether 15 percent of lottery funds will be a mere drop in the parks budget. Nor did they know, when they approved the special natural resources fund in 1999, that the state’s schools and other parts of state government would be so strapped for cash today. That kind of forecasting is beyond the scope of mere mortals, even of highly educated economists.

Lawmakers are going to spend the next few years struggling to balance the state’s budget and provide enough money for the competing worthy demands on state income tax dollars. They’re already handicapped in that task – gas, license and registration taxes must be spent in specific ways, for example – and there’s no good reason to extend even a small part of the problem into the future indefinitely. Measure 70, a constitutional amendment, would do just that.

– Wescom News Service (Bend Bulletin)