Friends Have a Falling Out

Measure 76 would preserve a percentage of Oregon Lottery revenue for environmental protection.Oregon’s Measure 76 reminds me of Israel’s foreign policy principle: “My Enemy’s Enemy is my Friend.” The November initiative would make permanent 1998’s Constitutional Amendment that allocates 15 percent of lottery revenues for conservation of State Parks and salmon.

Measure 76 is brought to us by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and is supported by most Oregon environmental organizations. Environmentalists’ opinions are very important to Democrat leaders in Oregon. However, Oregon’s other liberal power brokers, public-employee and teacher unions, oppose Measure 76 because it will dedicate some lottery funds that could help with Oregon’s $3 billion budget deficit.

It is unusual for environmentalists and public-employee unions to disagree on a public policy issue. In an effort to resolve the matter, House Speaker Dave Hunt, D-Gladstone, stepped in to convince the TNC to pull the measure. When environmentalists said no, Hunt crafted a complicated compromise to temporarily resolve the issue.

The deal goes something like this: Rep. Hunt and public-employee unions will not oppose Measure 76. Should Measure 76 pass in November, legislators will send a new version back to voters in 2011. The legislative referral will allow the salmon and parks money to be used to help mitigate revenue shortfalls, like we are currently experiencing.

The timber industry frequently battles Oregon’s environmental groups and, as part of the larger business community, runs up against public-employee unions on tax and budget matters.

But in this case, the timber industry probably would side with the environmentalists over the public-employee unions regarding Measure 76. Lottery dollars spent on watershed and fish restoration helps forest landowners manage their forests for wood products while still protecting the environment.

Public-employee unions wanted the TNC to withdraw the initiative before it made the ballot. After investing more than $1 million to gather sufficient signatures for the Constitutional amendment, the TNC was not willing to give up on a very successful program. The lottery dollars have provided millions for fish habitat and watershed improvement projects, and have helped create new state parks.

Legislators spent the past 10 years trying to get their hands on the dedicated lottery dollars. They have used lottery funds for natural resource agency budgets and have gone so far as to designate the State Capitol as a State Park so they could use the lottery dollars for some much-needed Capitol grounds maintenance and improvement.