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Rainy day fund proposal is all wet

Anyone interested in preserving the state's ability to invest in its public schools, universities, health care, economic development and transportation systems should take a close look at the alluring, but dangerous promise of Measure 48.

The measure, which appears on the Nov. 7 ballot, would do far more than restrict growth in state-government spending, it would severely limit Oregon's potential.

As proposed, Measure 48 (which is supported largely by out-of-state funding) would limit increases in state spending to an amount equal to the growth in population and inflation and would place taxes collected over that amount in a new holding account.

While such a reserve is long-overdue, Measure 48 isn't the right mechanism to allow elected officials to strategically save money for future needs or invest effectively in essential public services.

Measure 48 supporters argue that its formula based on population plus inflation will provide sufficient growth in state budgets.

That's folly, when you consider that some categories of government spending will naturally exceed the rate of inflation and overall population growth. Health-care costs, education, prisons and other services to the fast-growing senior population will require a greater share of the state budget.

Let's be frank. Oregon's economy, overly dependent on high-tech, plummeted during the recession earlier this decade. Only recently have we begun to crawl out of that hole.

Yet we are still struggling to improve schools, reduce highway congestion, improve a lagging public university system and care for citizens most in need. Solving these matters requires leadership, effective programs that get results and strategic investments.

The essential question voters ought to ask when confronted with this or any other ballot measure is: Exactly what is the problem we are trying to solve?

Oregonians already are amply protected against runaway government growth. Measure 5 capped property-tax rates. Measure 50 capped home assessments. State income taxes cannot exceed 9 percent of taxable income. The state has no sales tax, and the kicker law requires the Legislature to rebate surplus tax dollars. Measure 48 would do nothing immediately to reduce taxes. It simply tells the state it can't spend a portion of the money it collects over certain limits.

We don't need a ballot measure to artificially and arbitrarily set public policy or make investment decisions. That's why Oregonians elect a governor and 90 state legislators. Citizens also should be regularly involved in guiding strategic investment decisions on how taxpayers' money is best spent - and not simply by voting on infrequent ballot measures.

Vote 'no' on Measure 48 in the Nov. 7 general election.