Half measures and full consequences

Ballots are counted before the May primary election.

The initiative process is the citizenry’s tool to directly enact change in state government.

It can be used to answer questions the Legislature is unwilling to tackle (as in Measure 91 in 2014, which legalized recreational marijuana), direct state funding (Measure 98, 2016, which required additional dollars to student dropout prevention) or change an existing law (Measure 105, 2018, which would end Oregon’s sanctuary status).

Sometimes the issues are small and obscure, other times widespread and conspicuous.

Like all tools, measures can be helpful in fixing problems in the state. But in the wrong hands, they can create bigger ones.

In each of the five statewide measures on the November ballot, we hope voters take a good look at the problems they claim to solve, the means by which they intend to solve them and potential consequences.

We believe it is up to the backers of each measure to make their case and answer any and all concerns before earning a vote. In our evaluation, we have not found a compelling reason to vote “yes” on any of the five.

Here’s a brief explanation of each, and our concerns.

Would end the constitutional requirement that housing projects funded by municipal grants be owned by the government. It’s a well-intentioned measure that fails to adequately protect taxpayers’ investment. While it may help jump start affordable housing development, it is also ripe for misuse by the private sector and would grease sweetheart deals between public officials and developers. We’d rather see the Legislature tackle the problem with a bill that protects the rest of us.

Would amend the state constitution to ban local and state taxes on groceries. It must be noted that no one is attempting to pass such a tax, and this unnecessary measure is solely a defensive move by the grocery lobby against any future tax. Also of note is that the full ramifications aren’t spelled out in the measure, and it’s concerning that auxiliary industries may claim protection under its umbrella. Everything from restaurants to transportation could find itself shielded from taxes. Special interests shouldn’t be allowed to rewrite our constitution to their benefit, and voters should have the ability to decide whether to increase taxes on a case-by-case basis.

Would amend the constitution to apply the supermajority vote requirement to legislation that increases revenue through changes in tax exemptions, credits, and deductions. Limiting legislators’ ability to adjust tax exemptions and credits doesn’t solve an actual problem, but a perceived one. In this case it gives oversized power to a minority of the Legislature, and, much like Measure 103, is an effort by special interests to wrest control from the will of the people.

Would repeal the sanctuary state law, passed in 1987, which forbids state agencies from using resources to detect or apprehend people whose only violation is breaking federal immigration law. In an effort to build support for this measure, half of Oregon’s sheriffs signed a petition arguing for its necessity. That letter contends that the measure is not about racial profiling (the reason the law was first passed) but about better communication among law enforcement. To prove their point, they cited the murder of a young woman in Iowa who was allegedly killed by a man in the country illegally.

It’s classic fear-mongering, pointing to a far-off ill and claiming it could be at your doorstep unless you take action. Set aside the fact that immigrants commit crimes at a lower rate than citizens, and that there’s nothing currently prohibiting communication between agencies, and you’re still left with the big question of why this bipartisan law should go away. Police are stretched thin enough without spending their time and resources enforcing federal law.

It’s a measure that would fix nothing while sowing distrust toward law enforcement.

Would prohibit public funds from being spent on abortions, except when medically necessary or required by federal law. Opinions on abortion are tied to deeply held beliefs about human life, and those opposed to the procedure are understandably opposed to seeing any sliver of their tax dollars supporting it. But this measure fails to take into consideration all the possible side effects of such a ban, including its unequal impact on women living in poverty and public employees, who both rely on public health plans.

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