Pass both Measure 56 and Lake Oswegos local option
When Oregon voters take ballots out of their mailboxes this week they will find a dozen statewide measures. Although it has received relatively little attention, Measure 56 would significantly improve the process for voting on local property tax proposals.
For the past 10 years Oregon property tax proposals have been required to satisfy a peculiar 'double majority' requirement. For a proposal to pass, not only must a majority of the votes cast be in favor, but also a majority of registered voters must vote in the election.
The requirement of majority turnout in the election doesn't apply to November general elections. This exception doesn't mean much, since general elections nearly always see over 50 percent turnout by registered voters. However, the turnout in other elections rarely reaches 50 percent.
Measure 56 would expand the exception to the double majority requirement to include any May or November election. As a result, local governments could bring property tax proposals to voters twice a year instead of once every two years.
Without the change made by Measure 56, most property tax proposals are placed on the general election ballot. Voters can face a number of competing proposals, including ones that will not take effect for some time.
For example, residents of the Lake Oswego School District will be voting in this general election on renewal of the local option property tax levy. State law allows such a levy for five years, with the proceeds spent within the district instead of spreading them statewide under the equalization of school spending per pupil.
Lake Oswego's last five-year local option levy passed in the 2004 general election and does not expire until July 1, 2010. But the double majority forced the school district to bring the renewal back to the voters nearly two years before the current one expires because it's the last election before July 1, 2010 that need not comply with the double majority requirement.
Opponents of Measure 56 call the double majority a quorum requirement, like the rule that a majority of members of a board, committee, or assembly must be present for the transaction of business. But these are deliberative bodies, where the members hear the same information and arrive at decisions together. Voting is an individual right, not a collaborative process.
The requirement of majority turnout does not apply to any other kind of election. It was imposed on local property tax proposals simply to make it harder to pass them.
A number of local property tax proposals in Oregon have received a strong majority of yes votes, but failed because a majority of registered voters did not turn out.
The double majority requirement also creates a perverse incentive not to vote. For those who oppose a property tax proposal that is not presented at a general election, the best strategy is typically not to return a ballot.
By keeping turnout below 50 percent, opponents can defeat a proposal that a majority of voters support.
I urge a yes vote on Measure 56 to allow voters more opportunity to consider property tax proposals. I also urge a yes vote on renewal of the local option levy for Lake Oswego schools to maintain the excellence for which they are already known.
Rep. Greg Macpherson, Lake Oswego, represents Oregon House District 38.