When it came to this years ballot measures, it looks as if Oregon voters trusted their morals first and didnt worry too much about their pocketbooks.
Thats one of the theories and, frankly, just about the only theory we can come up with to explain some of the results from last Tuesdays election.
What else could explain the passage of Measure 73, which mandates increased prison sentences for DUII violators and certain sex criminals? Or the surprising loss of Measure 74, which would have authorized the creation of a statewide dispensary system for medical marijuana? Or the thumping voters handed to Measure 75, which would have amended the state constitution to establish a massive casino in Wood Village?
The passage of Measure 76, which continues to allocate a percentage of state lottery money to state parks and natural resources, would seem to fall into the same pattern: We like parks. And were prepared to make a bit of an uneasy truce with the fact that some of the money to pay for them comes from activity that is lets be honest gambling. But a casino? We wont look the other way to approve that.
As for Measure 74, it could be that voters agreed that the measure was much too vague and we certainly agree with that assessment. It could also be that the Oregon measure got caught up in a bit of the hysteria that marked the debate in California over that states legalization measure.
But we have to wonder if the tide has turned at the ballot box for marijuana issues, which have been embraced by voters in the past. Four states last week had some sort of pot initiative on the ballot, and all four were defeated.
Nevertheless, it will be the passage of Measure 73 that will leave the biggest mark on the state. It was the measure that carried the biggest price tag estimated at $18 million to $29 million a year. Most of that cost comes from the measures requirement that third and subsequent DUIIs be treated as felonies. Some 80 percent of the drivers convicted under the measure will serve time in prison. That will mean an additional 400 state inmates each year.
We argued before the election that Measure 73 is lousy public policy. We still believe that. But the main argument we lodged against it related to its cost: In a state facing billion-dollar deficits, is this really where we want to spend additional tax money? Voters apparently decided the answer is yes.
Well, thats a price tag that will come due in unexpected ways: Less money for schools. Less for human services. Perhaps even more belt-tightening for any part of law enforcement that isnt related to building and operating prison cells.
As for the legislators who will try to put together all these broken pieces into a coherent budget picture: When voters passed Measure 71, they told legislators that they can now meet every year. Its not clear at this writing whether voters meant that as a reward or a punishment.