Oregon voters will be facing an unusually light load of statewide ballot measures in this November's election.
Just five statewide measures appear to have qualified for the ballot. Over the last two decades, Oregon voters in an even-numbered year have been forced to plow through an average of 14 such measures.
The number of measures on the ballot could have been much higher: According to the website Ballotpedia, roughly three dozen ideas for measures failed to earn a place on the ballot. We have no issue with that; it should be hard to get an initiative onto the ballot, just as it should be hard to get a bill passed by the state Legislature.
But the measures that earned a spot on the ballot likely will trigger some heated electoral battles. At least two of them touch on hot-button issues across the nation, immigration and abortion. Two of them, proposed amendments to the state constitution, deal with tax issues. And the fifth measure, referred to voters by legislators, deals with affordable housing.
Here are summaries of the measures that will appear on the ballot. (As far as we could tell, the numbers of the measures as they will be listed on the ballot have yet to be assigned.)
Initiative Petition 31, the first of the two taxation measures, would amend Oregon's Constitution to require a three-fifths vote in the Legislature to trim tax breaks or raise fees. Already, such a vote is required to impose new taxes; this measure would extend that supermajority requirement to other means in which the state tries to raise revenue.
The other taxation proposal, Initiative Petition 37, would amend the state constitution to ban taxes on food.
The immigration proposal, Initiative Petition 22, would repeal Oregon's 1987 sanctuary law, which prohibits state and local law enforcement officers from helping to enforce federal immigration law.
Initiative Petition 1 would prohibit state funding for abortion, which is currently covered by Oregon's Medicaid program and public employees' health insurance.
The legislative referral in this year's mix is Referral 401, which would allow local governments to issue bonds to pay for affordable housing projects that involve nonprofits or other nongovernmental entities.
We'll have more to say about all of these issues as Election Day draws closer. In the meantime, if you're searching for a framework that will help you assess these measures, consider these points:
- A measure to amend the state constitution, in our view, must meet a higher standard than a statutory measure. So here's the question: Does this proposal absolutely need to be embedded in the constitution? A "no" answer suggests that you should vote accordingly.
- What is the potential financial impact of the proposed measure? Voters sometimes approve costly measures without worrying about how to pay for them. But state officials said last week that, by and large, this year's measures either will have limited financial impacts or impacts that are difficult to predict, although that preliminary assessment could change. The possible exception is the abortion measure: A draft financial impact statement said it could result in a net annual cost to the state of $19.3 million due to increased births and the need to provide health care and other support for low-income families. But the statement also found that the state could receive an additional $14.5 million each year from the federal government for those programs.
- Should the measure be taken up by the Legislature instead? Oregon voters love their ballot measures, but some topics are complicated enough that they deserve detailed scrutiny from legislators, with ample opportunity for public input. On the other hand, if it's an important issue that the Legislature steadfastly has refused to take up, you can skip this question.
- Finally, remember this: When in doubt on a ballot measure, "no" usually is a honorable vote.