This article was published on: 09/21/10 12:00 AM
Published: Sunday, September 19, 2010, 4:55 PM
The Oregonian Editorial Board
Times are tough, the economy is a mess, but voters can’t restore this state by crippling long-term funding for the things they love most about Oregon.
Supporters of Measure 76 couldn’t have picked a worse time to call the question of renewing the dedicated funding for Oregon parks, rivers, beaches and fish and wildlife.
Oregonians are hurting. Hundreds of thousands of people are out of work. The state is facing a huge budget deficit and struggling to keep its schools open.
But remember this: Voting against Measure 76 will not help these immediate problems. It won’t lower taxes, extend the next school year or help close the anticipated budget deficit.
All it would do is threaten a funding measure that over the past 12 years has revived the visionary actions of past Oregon leaders to save public access to beaches and waterways and build one of the nation’s great state park systems.
Measure 76 asks voters to make permanent the dedication of 15 percent of state lottery proceeds each year to parks and natural resources. Next year, that’s expected to be $87 million.
Let us be clear: Today’s budget crisis shows the perils of writing dedicated funding into the constitution. If it were possible to take part of the $87 million for parks and use it to help keep schools afloat next year, we’d reluctantly urge a no vote on Measure 76. But it’s not.
In 1998, when more than two-thirds of voters approved what was then Measure 66, they locked the lottery allocation to parks and natural resources into the constitution through the end of 2014. That money can’t be diverted now.
Whether Measure 76 is approved or not, legislative leaders plan next year to refer a measure to voters to amend the lottery-for-parks funding in several important ways, including a provision to allow lawmakers to divert dedicated funds during economic crises. The conservation groups, recreation organizations and watershed councils who back Measure 76 have promised not to oppose the amendments.
We wish that Oregonians had an opportunity Nov. 2 to approve a single measure that both extended the dedicated funding for parks and allowed the money to be used in other ways during true emergencies.
But that’s not the choice before Oregonians. And we worry a no vote on Measure 76 would throw the whole future of the parks and natural resource funding into doubt. Voters would have to be asked a second time to renew lottery funding — and the record shows voters hate to be asked the same question twice.
The best path through this thicket is to approve Measure 76 now and prepare to vote yes next year on the measure that would grant the Legislature access to the dedicated funds in economic emergencies.
Whatever happens, it is essential that Oregonians continue to support a reliable source of funding for their beloved parks and fish and wildlife projects. It’s hard to remember now, but 12 years ago Oregon’s park system was overwhelmed by visitors and dying from financial neglect. The state was about to close 65 parks for lack of funding.
Look now: Oregon has opened several tremendous new state parks. It’s nearly caught up on overdue maintenance. Moreover, lottery money has spurred a remarkable public-private effort to restore streams, wetlands and critical habitats for salmon, other fish and other wildlife. Thousands of people volunteer every year on these projects. Many small businesses have sprung up to work on them, too.
All this — the parks, the streams, the fish and wildlife — goes to the very soul of Oregon. There are years, like this one, when this state must marshal all its resources to support schools and the most vulnerable Oregonians. But year in and year out, Oregon absolutely must take care of the things that make living here special. Vote yes on Measure 76.
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