Oregon voters will decide in November on three tax measures, two measures to allow privately owned casinos, legalization of marijuana and a ban on commercial gillnet fishing. They also will get a chance to give the governor additional powers in the event of a catastrophic disaster.
None of the measures, at least so far, has touched a public nerve. But that could change after Labor Day and voters begin to pay attention to who and what is on the ballot.
A tight, well-funded presidential race should ensure good voter turnout, even though Oregon is usually lumped in with fairly certain blue states voting for President Obama. Some of the ballot measures that qualified for the Oregon ballot also could stir the political pot.
Legalizing personal cultivation and use of marijuana and hemp (Measure 80) will draw attention from the expected quarters. Oregonians have voted on marijuana and medical marijuana measures before, but this measure has a new twist — a government role in regulating commercial marijuana cultivation and sale. Think of the commission that would be created as a mini-Oregon Liquor Control Commission.
The pair of measures to legalize privately owned casinos and a casino in a former greyhound racetrack in Wood Village will get plenty of airplay. The Lake Oswego-based casino advocates have invested a lot of money to get Measures 82 and 83 on the ballot and can be expected to fund a robust campaign in their support. Indian casino operators, who worry that a Portland-area casino will siphon off their clientele, will mount strong opposition. The Oregon Lottery and its retailers have a similar fear. Also expect voices of concern from those who worry about making casino gambling even more accessible in the metropolitan area. Oregon voters rejected a similar measure in 2010.
By comparison, the proposed ban on commercial gillnet fishing (Measure 81) seems like inside baseball. If passed, it would disallow use of gillnets to catch salmon by non-tribal persons on the Columbia River, with exceptions in the Lower Columbia River. Commercial fishing interests aren't well-heeled and may be unable to tell its story to voters. Then again, the same may be true for the sponsors of the measure.
Tax measures can be headliners on any ballot, but maybe not so much this time. Measure 79, pushed by Oregon's real estate sector, would ban any new real estate transfer taxes or fees. Measure 84 would phase out the state's inheritance tax on large estates and all taxes imposed on intra-family property transfers. Measure 85, sponsored by Our Oregon, would redirect corporate income tax kicker refunds to support K-12 education.
The real estate transfer tax ban may be a fait accompli, with no substantial opposition in sight. There may be a few more grumbles about the inheritance tax (proponents call it the death tax), but the intra-family property transfer provisions make it hard to oppose.
The surrender of the corporate kicker to boost financial support for K-12 schools enjoys some support within the business community, which may mute opposition. The back-story of the initiative also may be a factor in tepid opposition. Oregon labor leaders backed off more aggressive taxation proposals at the request of Governor Kitzhaber, who warned they would rekindle a bitter political battle at a time when Oregon's economy remains shaky. Since the corporate kicker doesn't kick all that often and isn't a revenue source companies can count on, some influential business leaders view this measure as an economic throwaway to gain political capital for other, more important battles.
Measure 77 is a legislative referral to amend the Oregon Constitution to give the governor greater authority and the legislature more spending flexibility in dealing with a catastrophic disaster, such as a major earthquake. The measure was referred to the ballot by a 50-9 vote in the Oregon House and 30-0 tally in the Oregon Senate.
Lawmakers on a similar bipartisan basis referred Measure 78 that also amends the Constitution's language regarding separation of powers. This is a technical fix, which includes grooming some spelling and grammar flaws.