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Measure will stop light-rail fixes


Laws have consequences. Those we vote on at the ballot box have a special burden. They are not subject to the normal give-and-take of enactment by our elected leaders. They need to be written correctly when enacted, because, if not, we all pay for unintended consequences for years to come.

We are nearly lifelong Clackamas County residents. One of us is a Democrat with a lifetime of civic involvement from the local level, to the state and national levels. The other was the Republican leader in the Oregon House of Representatives. We look at the world differently, but we agree on this: Ballot Measure 3-401 is packed with so many unintended consequences and uncertainties that it is a lawyer’s dream.

When we mark our ballots, we want to know what we are actually voting on. With measure 3-401, we don’t know.

This measure is designed to stop light rail by “guaranteeing the right to vote.” But it doesn’t do that.

If this measure is passed and becomes law, it will prevent the county from expending any resources on anything to do with “passenger rail,” which includes Amtrak, high-speed rail, WES, streetcars, and light rail.

According to the county’s own legal counsel and an independent legal opinion by the state’s foremost constitutional lawyer, this means the county couldn’t trim the trees over the tracks it owns without a vote.

The Clackamas County legal counsel says it means we couldn’t paint a crosswalk on a county road to a WES station without a vote. And it couldn’t pick up a fallen sign pointing to the Amtrak station without a vote.

Frankly, we don’t know if that would happen or not. But we do know that we don’t want to pass a measure that even leaves that as an open question.

Competent legal review of the measure says it would bar the county from even calling an election to take care of these unintended consequences. All elections to deal with rail issues would have to come from a citizen initiative. Who is going to gather signatures to vote on whether to trim the trees or pick up a fallen sign?

And then there is public safety. Will the Clackamas County sheriff be allowed to patrol a MAX station or even arrest a bad guy on a train? We would hope and expect so, but the measure specifically says “no county resources may be spent” on anything to do with passenger rail and two legal opinions say this is a problem.

These are the kinds of problems you want resolved before a measure becomes law, not afterwards.

One county commissioner submitted a voter’s pamphlet statement acknowledging problems with Ballot Measure 3-401 but urged support, even with the flaws that he hopes can be resolved later.

If someone tried to sell you a product by saying, “trust us, it may not work but we’ll fix it,” you would hide your wallet.

Don’t trust them to “fix it later.” Vote no on Measure 3-401. Tell them to come back with something without all the uncertainties and problems.

Roger Martin and David Yaden are Clackamas County residents.