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Lets cut the fair, not the cops

Voters did more than reject a big tax package last Tuesday: They gave their elected officials an opportunity to do the right thing and put core functions first.

Measure 30's defeat will trigger automatic cuts in a number of state government services, some of which should not happen. While restraint is necessary, the automatic cuts are not. Elected officials must acknowledge that government's primary purpose is to protect our lives, liberty and property.

With that purpose in mind, the first cut that should be reversed is the $3.9 million aimed at the Oregon State Police forensics division. Laying off 60 experts in DNA testing, alcohol-breath testing, fingerprint examination, forensic firearms examination and crime-scene analysis is not a responsible decision.

Legislators can find the $3.9 million to save those essential positions in their own back yard, at the state fairgrounds. Last year, the Legislature subsidized the Oregon State Fair with $3.9 million from lottery revenue, plus a smaller amount from the general fund.

The state fair is not a core function of government. Legislators and the governor should transfer that money from the state fair to the state police forensics division, thus saving essential jobs.

Looking ahead, lawmakers should not just stop these subsidies: They should sell the 185-acre fairgrounds and expo center. The Marion County assessor's office estimates the property's real market value to be $51.3 million. Private owners should have the opportunity to either run the state fair at a profit or use the property for other purposes.

Even without selling the fairgrounds, legislators cannot justify subsidizing the fair when it means laying off almost 60 percent of state police forensics experts.

Reducing the size of government need not jeopardize core functions. Police services are as core as core functions get.

Steve Buckstein is president of Cascade Policy Institute, a Portland think tank. He holds degrees in business administration and physics from Oregon State University. He lives in Northeast Portland.