10/31 Editorial

*A lot to think about in a "little" election*

A lot to think about

in a "little" election

It's a mini-election, in a way. But there is nothing small about the significance of these two issues in the minds of Oregonians.

Or the animosity they've created.

As special elections go, it's hard to recall a more bitter campaign than the one that culminates on Tuesday, Nov. 6. Some of us might say that each new election with statewide measures on the ballot is more contentious than the last.

Measure 49 is about replacing one law concerning landowners' rights with another. Measure 50 is about establishing children's health care funding through increased tobacco taxes.

Both issues are complex in their applications, and there are no shortcuts to their understanding. Homework is necessary. To read about the issues, and to see who is supporting and opposing them, refer to the Voter's Pamphlet or go online to www.sos.state.or.us/elections/nov62007.

Itemizer-Observer readers have weighed in mightily on these measures. We have printed scores of letters to the editor as well as a few guest columns by thoughtful individuals on both sides of the issues.

We have seen many citizens express dismay because in their view both measures are flawed - if not in intent, then in method.

The current property compensation law, Measure 37, requires the government to either pay landowners for reduced property value caused by certain land use regulations, or not to apply such regulations. Claims can be filed at the city, county or state level.

Since local governments don't have money to pay property owners, successful claims result in those owners being able to subdivide or build on their land according to the laws in place when they came into ownership of the property. Most Oregon land use restrictions went into effect in the early 1970s.

Measure 37 was hard-won battle

Proponents of Measure 37 feel embattled, and understandably so. Oregonians voted a similar measure into law via the state constitution in 2000, only to see it thrown out by the Oregon Supreme Court as too sweeping in its changes to be considered a single amendment.

In 2004, Oregon voters passed Measure 37, but it was blocked in 2005 by Marion County Circuit Judge Mary James, who said it violates equal protection provisions of the constitution, breaches governmental separation of powers, and intrudes on legislative authority.

Vindication for Measure 37 supporters finally came in 2006, when the Oregon Supreme Court reversed James' ruling and declared the law constitutional.

Now, Measure 49 seeks to revise the law to protect the public against exploitation of Measure 37, namely by those who would use it for large-scale housing developments or commercial enterprises, presuming they could get the necessary zoning and infrastructure approvals.

In one sense, Measure 49 lets Oregonians choose which option they feel provides better livability for the future. But in another sense, it is an affront to voters who feel they can never win even after they come down overwhelmingly (the vote was 61 percent to 39 percent for Measure 37) on one side of an issue and pass the test of the courts as well.

Former state Land Conservation and Development director Lane Shetterly, in the Oct. 24 I-O, and local attorney Stephen Mannenbach, in today's I-O, provide passionate but opposite views of Measure 49, which we recommend to your reading.

Measure 50 seems more straightforward but packs its own set of controversies. It is inarguable that tobacco is harmful to its users, those around them, and the cost-bearing health system. It is also inarguable that more funding for children's health programs would be a great thing. Local physician Keith White has taken out large advertisements in the I-O to eloquently state the case for Measure 50.

Opponents cite various reasons

Measure 50's perceived flaws mostly come in method, not intent. Like Measure 49, it was referred from the Legislature, which couldn't raise enough votes to do the job itself (in the case of a tax increase, it needed a 60 percent majority).

Opponents say the Legislature, even with a record budget, couldn't find a way to fund a "Healthy Kids" program and so placed the 84-cents-a-pack "sin tax" before voters, who in their non-smoking majority are likely to pass it via the "back door" of the constitution.

A fiscal concern among opponents is that Measure 50 would create a state bureaucracy and a stream of funding that can't be sustained as priced-out smokers dwindle in number.

Some foes even call Measure 50 a legislative "blank check" and contend that as much as 70 percent of its revenues will never make it to the Healthy Kids program.

On some things perhaps most Oregonians can agree:

* The spins put on both sides of both measures by advertising agencies are, as usual, simplistic and play on emotions rather than reason. Good riddance to the "Love Oregon?" and "Don't Mess with My Constitution" campaigns.

* It's only smart to learn all we can on the issues. The real information is made available to us. We have only to exercise our brains.

* It's still a privilege to vote, and we should do so. Ballots mailed today through Saturday will reach the election office in time, and right up through Tuesday ballots can be put in a ballot drop box.

One thing worth bearing in mind is that ballot measure election results are not set in stone. Laws can be overturned via the courts (legislative term limits, anyone?), and now, as we see in this election, by voter initiative.

In fact, it can be fairly asked whether long-term government planning works at all in our day and age. We recommend the commentary on Page 5A as food for thought. Refreshingly, it didn't come from Measure 49/50 backers/foes, nor from Republicans or Democrats, but from the Libertarian-leaning Cato Institute.


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