YOU'VE GOT SOMETHING pretty important in your hands right now—unless it's somewhere else in your house, like under a bunch of unpaid bills, or some library books, or last Friday's crusty dinner plates.
It's your ballot! It showed up sometime after Wednesday, October 15. And it's your latest and best chance to lay your claim to a more perfect Oregon. In fact, it's all about you.
You get to decide whether Oregon gets in on a daring experiment in states' rights, legalizing marijuana for recreational use and erasing some of the ills of prohibition.
You get to decide whether Portland ought to keep fixing up its cherished parks and public spaces.
You get to decide whether a reliably progressive US senator should give way to an earnest brain surgeon who maybe relied on Republican talking points a bit too much.
And you get to decide whether our lackluster governor deserves a fourth term—instead of handing the job to some downstate Republican with dubiously reactionary social views.
But here's the thing: Marking your ballot the right way won't be easy. It'll take guts! It'll take strength! It'll take moxie!
Which is where we come in. We've spent the past few weeks sifting through this fall's most consequential races and then taking our best shots at the smart plays. Hopefully that makes your hard work just a little bit easier. Hopefully it means you'll vote.
Because seriously... vote, goddammit. Vote.
—"The Mercury editorial board "is a fancier way of saying "news editor Denis C. Theriault and news reporter Dirk VanderHart."
US Senate: Jeff Merkley
JEFF MERKLEY isn't going to win many charisma contests. Oregon's junior US senator is soft-spoken, and frequently sort of looks down and to the left when he's answering your questions. Is it deep concentration? Boredom? A habit Merkley picked up along the way to political office that has no real import? We can't say, but some of the Beltway polish typical to senators is missing in the man.
His main challenger, Republican Monica Wehby, struck us the other way. In what's been an ugly and at times embarrassing race, Wehby has maintained a winsome charm—even if it does lean a little heavily on her Southern roots. And contrary to many of the accusations levied against her, it's clear the pediatric brain surgeon is running a sincere campaign. We were somewhat surprised to find we believed Wehby when she said she didn't intend to be a Republican rubber stamp.
Which is not to say we believe she wouldn't be. You should definitely re-elect Merkley.
While the senator may lack style, he has by far the best combination of background, values, and experience of any candidate in the race. Mostly, though, he sees a need for action in areas where Republicans, like his opponent, are pushing the status quo.
The list of issues Merkley gets right that Wehby doesn't—better regulation of carbon emissions, more-stringent gun control, increasing the minimum wage, to name a few—may as well be a craggy signal post where two roads diverge.
And that Wehby road? It's the wrong way.
That's not to say there aren't legitimate gripes about Merkley's first term. As an outspoken supporter of the Affordable Care Act, he spouted uncritical views of Cover Oregon, the law's disastrously flawed local arm. These days he's more realistic, calling the broken rollout "a complete debacle."
But Merkley's also defiant. He points to hundreds of thousands of Oregonians who've been able to sign up for insurance under the law. And when one of his opponents, Constitution Party candidate Jim Leuenberger, griped during our interview that the Affordable Care Act had cost him his insurance plan, Merkley pledged to have his staff look into the matter.
Merkley's also frequently called out as one of the Senate's staunchest liberals. It's relatively rare for the senator to cross the aisle to co-sponsor legislation, which is not likely to be helpful in a year Republicans are expected to make gains in both houses.
But come on. Wehby based her entire campaign on health care expertise—which we have no doubt she possesses—but then didn't take care to make sure her staffers hadn't baldly copied widely circulated Republican talking points on the matter. As BuzzFeed pointed out, she cribbed points from a Karl Rove-affiliated group and her opponent in the May primary, Jason Conger.
We understand campaigns are hectic and busy. And we liked Wehby, and her willingness to (mostly) buck the party line on issues like marriage equality and abortion. She even acknowledges human-caused climate change, though she doesn't seem to think we need to do anything new to stop it.
But any credibility she had on her whole "rubber stamp" argument went into the garbage when she couldn't be bothered to pen original sentences on her signature issue.
There are other candidates in the race. Christina Lugo, a lawn care company owner running under the banner of the Pacific Green Party, is likeable and as lefty as you can get. She wants us out of the Middle East, to cut carbon emissions, and provide a living wage to workers, etc. But she also deferred to Merkley’s good work on many issues (and even asked us to take a picture of her and the senator).
Libertarian candidate Mike Montchalin lives in Pendleton, and didn’t want to make the trip for an interview. And Leuenberger? He was genial enough, but absolutely do not vote for Leuenberger.
Charisma or no, Merkley embodies most of the qualities we want in a senator. Send him back to Washington, DC.
Governor: John Kitzhaber (Democrat)
IT'S HARDLY been the coronation Governor John Kitzhaber might have privately hoped for in 2013, when he wasn't certain if he'd run for a fourth term—something no other governor in Oregon has ever won.
Health care reform hadn't yet become an easy punchline for Kitzhaber's foes, thanks to the millions burned up in what's become a fiasco over Cover Oregon—our state's mismanaged and still-troubled health care enrollment website. The New York Times, in those halcyon days, was lionizing the governor, an emergency room doctor, for the policy chops that brought an extra $1.9 billion in Medicaid cash, meant to help Oregonians at risk and in poverty thrive under coordinated care organizations.
Kitzhaber was still seen as an able centrist willing to buck some of the people who helped put him in office—public employee unions—by staging a "grand compromise" that cut government workers' retirement paychecks someday to pay for more teachers and fatten education budgets right now. (Yes, yes, that bargain also cut another spigot of cash that might be handy now: business taxes.)
He gambled again on prison reform, agreeing to see if county officials might head off a forecasted expansion of prison beds if only someone would give them money to keep better track of parolees and probationers, and work on the roots of recidivism.
He even stood up to nativists and others by signing a hard-fought and incredibly controversial bill offering drivers' cards to Oregonians—immigrants or not—lacking documented proof of their place of birth. He could have vetoed the bill, which instead was referred to the ballot by voters and now lives on as Measure 88. (Which we're also endorsing... spoiler alert!)
But look at how quickly it all seemed to crumble.
Sure, we still think Kitzhaber deserves another four years—especially when the alternative is Republican State Representative Dennis Richardson, a plain, rural reactionary on social, economic, immigration, and environmental issues.
But let's be honest: We're nowhere near as enthusiastic as we thought we might be. While other people see scandal and missteps—and we see those, too—we also see the dangers inherent in Kitzhaber's avowed centrism, manifesting in the zombie stench of the Columbia River Crossing (CRC), and Oregon's disturbing willingness to bend on taxes for megaliths like Nike and Intel.
And so we keep scribbling Ted Wheeler's name in our notebooks.
Kitzhaber, of course, hasn't made it any easier on his would-be admirers.
Cover Oregon really did drift disastrously under his watch—especially embarrassing given Kitzhaber's past plaudits on health care—leading to major shakeups and turmoil at the vital Oregon Health Authority.
Worse, that drip-drip-drip of scandal helped build a feeling Kitzhaber, famed for his blue jeans and cool, was either negligently disengaged or an overwhelmed manager. And that sense has only grown in the past year thanks to a dispiriting string of reports, which never stopped sowing doubts about his management style.
His handpicked education reformer, Rudy Crew, bolted the state about a year after he arrived, leaving behind complaints he hardly seemed interested in doing his job. Then, as Willamette Week has reported more recently, Kitzhaber's office stood by (when they weren't helping out), while his fiancée cavalierly blurred the lines between her ceremonial role as first lady and her professional role as an energy consultant. Willamette Week also raised questions about Kitzhaber's honesty regarding his work with consultant Patricia McCaig, first during the fracas over the CRC in 2013, and then not long ago, during the campaign.
One by one, these troubles would each do a little bit of damage before fading away. But when they follow one after the other—well, it's a bit more difficult to ignore the picture that emerges.
This seems to be where Richardson comes in. Given a golden ticket to sack an incumbent who's let a lot of people down, Richardson has somehow managed to become the gubernatorial candidate Oregonians like even less. He's been terribly adept at criticizing Kitzhaber (even if it ain't so hard)—but he's been far less skilled at actually charting a specific course for Oregon that reasonable people might want to follow.
What details do emerge from Richardson—a six-term lawmaker from Southern Oregon—are troubling. His transportation plan seems to involve starving the Portland area of transit money so he can build a major highway between Ontario and Coos Bay. In fact, during a debate with KGW and the Oregonian, he even pitched that as a way for Oregonians to avoid coming to Portland altogether.
If anything, Richardson would have been an even more passionate crusader for the CRC, even more unwilling to consider some of the open questions—traffic, debt, smog—the boondoggle of a bridge would have posed. Richardson's preferred form of rail, it seems, involves trains laden with coal sending their sooty cargo over to Asian countries, who'd burn the stuff and send the particulate back over our own heads. Kitzhaber, thankfully, has been staunchly anti-coal. (Kitzhaber's also more nuanced about alternative energy and timber management, two keys to Oregon's future.)
And no matter what Richardson might say about his out-of-step stances on marriage equality and abortion (he'd prefer not to have either), claiming they wouldn't matter in the governor's mansion—don't believe him. Social issues always matter. Kitzhaber, one can easily imagine, might sign laws toughening Oregon's "safe schools" rules for LGBTQ students. Kitzhaber has already been a leader and a moral example. It's impossible to imagine Richardson being either.
It's also impossible to imagine an Oregon run by Richardson, with help from legislative Republicans, that continues embracing progressive ideals like statewide mandatory sick leave and a meaningful increase in the minimum wage.
You might not like the choice you've been given, but put that all aside. Because it doesn't make that disappointing choice any less clear.
Measure 86 ("Opportunity Initiative") : YES
THE OREGON LEGISLATURE, busy juggling endless hot potatoes like the Columbia River Crossing and the state's troubled K-12 schools, has let higher education crash to the floor.
The portion of the state's general fund put toward public universities and community colleges sits at historic lows; administrators, professors, and university staff must make do with less, causing predictable acrimony when labor contract negotiations come around; and Oregon students are tasked with chipping in where the legislature won't.
In the last decade alone, tuition in the Oregon University System shot up 50 percent, far outpacing income, and doubtlessly leaving aspiring students behind.
The status quo got us here, and it shows no signs of improving.
Which is why we agree with State Treasurer Ted Wheeler that Oregon needs to do something extraordinary to reaffirm its commitment to higher education. And Wheeler has hit on a good thing with Measure 86, his so-called "Opportunity Initiative."
Under the measure, the Oregon Constitution would be amended, allowing the state to issue potentially billions in bonds. The precise amount would be up to lawmakers. But whatever the amount, all that money would be invested—and the fruits of those investments would be dedicated to Oregon's students in the form of financial aid. That outlay might be relatively modest, Wheeler concedes—particularly in the short term—but it will also foster a better-educated workforce.
There are gripes about the measure—suggestions the fund's investments could tank and a specious argument that more aid will just let schools increase tuition—but no organized opposition. Some conservatives question the use of limited public money, saying private donations should be used to set up a fund.
But that's what's great about Wheeler's plan. Without raising your taxes, it would spur the legislature to put general fund money toward higher education, and also send a message that college education is a priority.
That message is long overdue.
Measure 88 (Drivers' Cards) : YES
PLEASE DON'T let the fear-mongers among us—the nativists, the bigots, the racists, the speak-English-first types—have their way.
If you vote no on Measure 88, which would allow Oregon to assign drivers' cards to people who can't (or just won't) produce documents proving their legal residency in the United States, that's exactly what you'll be doing.
You'll be just as horrible as groups like Protect Oregon Driver Licenses and Oregonians for Immigration Reform, who have been spreading manure piles of misinformation about what's actually at stake—including some unconscionable references to September 11.
Measure 88 won't give drivers' licenses to "illegal aliens," opening the door to waves of terrorism and voter fraud. In fact, it won't be giving licenses to anybody. The card called for in the measure won't be considered legal identification. It'll just be a way to prove someone passed state driving examinations and qualifies for affordable car insurance.
(Hell, you don't have to be an immigrant to get one. Maybe you can't find your birth certificate and can't afford to order one. Maybe you're a privacy advocate who thinks it's stupid that driving privileges are tied up with government ID cards. Either way, this is for you, too.)
How do we know the sky won't fall? For one thing, because we're rational. But in case you need a bit more convincing, consider this: Ten other states, and Washington, DC, already offer something similar, including nearly every state surrounding Oregon (sorry, Idaho!). Disorder and chaos have yet to descend. In fact, crash rates in New Mexico, which passed its law in 2003, have dropped. And in Utah? Fewer people have resorted to driving without insurance.
And then consider something else: Before 2008, according to backers like the ACLU and immigration rights group Causa, Oregon had no issue with handing out actual drivers' licenses—not mere drivers' cards—to people who couldn't verify their immigration status. You probably had no idea anything had changed.
But some Oregonians have noticed—and that's why this shouldn't be seen as another front in America's immigration wars. Families forced into the shadows—many of them with mixed immigration status, with a parent who's undocumented and children who are not—would like to be able to drive legally and obtain insurance.
Instead, they're confronting agonizing choices no one should have to face.
Right now, when a child in one of those families falls ill, parents who want to get that child to a doctor must weigh the risk of being pulled over, and possibly winding up flagged for deportation. Or maybe they'll pass up a job. Or a chance to send their children to a better school.
Those questions would all be eased with a drivers' card—which wouldn't and couldn't be allowed as a pretext for Oregon cops to question someone's immigration status, officials say.
This was all supposed to have been settled a little more than a year ago.
In bipartisan fashion—backed by an unusual coalition of interests including immigrant rights activists and powerful business lobbyists—the Oregon Legislature sent this same program over to Governor John Kitzhaber. And Kitzhaber, bless him, signed that bill, SB 833, even though it might catch him some flak on the campaign trail.
So what happened? Bigots decided to raise thousands of signatures from a minority of Oregonians and put SB 833 on the ballot, where they'd be free to spew scare tactics and undo something sensible and humane.
The latest polls show they're winning. Don't let them. We're better than that.
Measure 89 (Equal Rights Amendment) : YES
FOR SOMETHING that says women should get a fair shake, Measure 89—the Oregon Equal Rights Amendment, or ERA—has become surprisingly contentious.
Its champions say it's a necessary constitutional change that will give women a stronger leg to stand on, if and when they're treated disparately. Detractors argue the Oregon Supreme Court already conveyed the "strongest possible" protections to women decades ago, and that the ERA is little more than feel-good symbolism.
There is yelling about this. But the fact is nothing much is going to happen—pass or fail.
All Measure 89 actually does is insert a few new words into the state constitution, making it perfectly clear your rights can't be "abridged by the State of Oregon or by any political subdivision in this state on account of sex."
It's great, except there's already a similar, more-encompassing provision in the constitution, one that grants equal protections to every "class of citizens." Measure 89's backers—among them retired Oregon Supreme Court justices, Governor John Kitzhaber, and many state and federal lawmakers—are quick to bring up historic injustices against women in Oregon that nonetheless prevailed under that language. But they also don't mention how the state constitution has been used to uphold injustice, ever since a 1984 Oregon Supreme Court decision made plain women have equal cover under the law.
And backers can't say how Oregon's women would be concretely better off if the new language is added. A letter signed by four former state justices says the ERA would "acknowledge the contributions and importance of more than 50 percent of our citizens by finally providing women express recognition in our state's most important document."
None of that sounds so bad. Then why fight against it?
No one is, really. But the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon (ACLU) has raised some interesting points. It says the ERA needlessly tampers with the constitution. Tinkering with our state's central principles requires a compelling reason, the ACLU contends, and this isn't it. And the organization raises the specter that specifically calling out women for equal protection may have the effect of diminishing legal cover for other groups.
There's no proof of that, just like there's no proof the injustices women still face are going to be banished if we insert the new language.
So where does that leave us? Conflicted, but also tired of the bullshit inequalities that persist. Measure 89 won't fix those, but go ahead and vote for it—as a show of support for a struggle that's gone on far too long.
Measure 90 (Top-Two Primaries) : NO
THE PROMISES of the top-two election system pushed by Measure 90 sound remarkably reasonable: an increase in engagement—especially among young, non-affiliated voters shut out from major-party primary ballots—and a decrease in partisanship and gridlock.
And some very reasonable people are supporting the measure.
Both major gubernatorial candidates have given Measure 90 their blessing. So has the Working Families Party, a reliable bastion of progressive causes. And the Independent Party of Oregon, which is on the cusp of becoming Oregon's third major party. A former Bus Project leader has even agreed to help the campaign, whose chief petitioner, Rejuvenation founder Jim Kelly, has been a longtime donor to left-leaning causes.
As they see it, Oregon would walk down a road most recently taken by Washington and California. We'd have a primary ballot where all candidates, from any party or no party, could compete—with the top two going on to slug it out one more time in the fall. That road, proponents say, would lead to political moderation and a happily humming government—by taking primary elections away from the few thousand Democratic and Republican partisans who typically decide them.
And along the way, many of the 668,000-plus voters who've chosen not to register with either major party this year—giving up the right to vote in partisan primary races—might finally feel invested.
If we say yes, some of those dreams might really come true. Or not! Nothing might happen!
Worse, we might also wake up to a nightmare—especially if deeper-pocketed business interests (like the millionaires and billionaires funding this push) figure out they'll have two chances to outspend Tea Party groups and labor unions alike in pursuit of business-friendly candidates.
And that's the problem. It's still too early to say whether top-two primaries have left things better or worse or no different in California and Washington. Both states have had open primaries for only a handful of election cycles—and, in fact, some of the early signs haven't been so good.
All of which explains why we just can't bring ourselves to say yes to Measure 90. Not now. And maybe not ever.
In California, according to a Common Cause Oregon report, most of the "moderation" so far has been among Democrats, not Republicans. It's unclear how many of the state's competitive races are due to some other factors: term limits and citizen-led redistricting. Turnout, one measure of engagement, hasn't made any marked gains in either state. And there's been weirdness—like the heavily Democratic congressional district in California won by a Republican in 2012 after all four Democrats who ran in the primary so diluted the vote that none of them made the cut.
The people backing Measure 90, of course, have heard all of it before. And when we sat down with them, they largely dismissed most of those concerns out of hand, chalking them up to the desperate heavings of their biggest opponents in this fight—the two major parties and their financiers in the state's labor unions.
But that's a little too convenient. Yes, the major parties have a lot to lose in an expanded political map. Yes, they've been part of the problem—driving younger voters, especially, from their arms. And, yes, they're glossing over one of the innovations unique to Oregon's top-two proposal: parties' ability to endorse candidates ahead of the primary and have those endorsements show up on the ballot.
All the same, foes of top-two aren't pulling their grumbles out of thin air.
In a state with no limits on campaign cash, the groups and interests who fund progressive causes and candidates could easily find themselves spread too thin to keep up with business groups and billionaires. And top-two primaries have hardly been proven as a healing salve for the fractured politics of our neighboring states—they might yet be poison instead.
Until we know whether they are—and until Oregon's ready to join an idea like the top-two primary with other reforms, like automatic voter registration and campaign finance limits—the most prudent choice is to say no.
Measure 91 (Legal Pot) : YesCAMPAIGN SEASON is a time for hyperbole, and Oregon's latest fight over legal pot has unleashed it in droves.
New Approach Oregon, the moneyed proponents of Measure 91, argue too much police time is being spent on marijuana enforcement, and have bolstered that point by repeating misleading figures that suggest thousands of Oregonians are arrested for pot each year. Oregon decriminalized possessing less than an ounce decades ago, so actual arrests are far, far below those numbers (though small-time possession can still land you a steep ticket and a blemished record).
Other facts are less spurious. New Approach rightly points out that African Americans are twice as likely as white Oregonians to be cited for pot infractions, and notes that millions of dollars are being pumped needlessly into the black market.
"What about the children?" opponents ask. The state's sheriffs and district attorneys have lined up against the measure, spinning visions of toddlers unknowingly noshing on overpowering pot cookies and middle school students effortlessly buying joints. Best to leave pot where it is, they say: tolerated but relatively difficult to obtain.
But that argument—with its hypocritically permissive attitude toward illegal pot use—amounts to acceptance of a policy that hasn't made sense for decades. It's time to adopt a realistic view of marijuana. Vote yes on Measure 91.
If passed, the measure would legalize the sale and use of recreational marijuana statewide. You couldn't smoke on the street, and there probably wouldn't be bar-like establishments where you might light up instead. But you'd be free to smoke in private all you like, and carry up to an ounce in public without fear of citation. Licensed pot shops would offer tested, quality herb, or you could grow up to four plants for personal use without needing a license at all.
Estimates of how much tax money legalization could bring in vary widely—from $17 million to $40 million—and would mostly go toward schools, with money also reserved for substance abuse treatment and state and local police.
The whole shebang would be overseen by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC), an aspect that gives us pause, but which nonetheless acknowledges marijuana is far more similar to alcohol (and safer, too!) than the frightening narcotics it's currently bundled with under federal law.
Opponents are correct that pot should be kept away from teens and children, whose developing brains are especially susceptible to its downsides. But so should alcohol. Even now under prohibition, dime bags can be easier to come by than a six-pack.
Naysayers' other main point is that marijuana could make roads less safe. This hasn't happened in Washington or Colorado, as far as anyone can tell.
Speaking of those pioneering states, their experience will be crucial. As we've pointed out, the OLCC needs to do its research to avoid some of the pitfalls currently causing problems in Washington ["Supply and the Man," Feature, Sept 3]. With Measure 91, we've already arrived at a far less onerous tax structure, and the commission will have until 2016 to form up good policy.
That's ample time to ensure Oregon carefully comes to its senses about marijuana—at long last.
Measure 92 (GMO Labeling) : NO
THIS ONE looks easy, right?
Measure 92 would require companies to label any human foods made through genetic engineering. And since there are a ton of everyday products that use genetically modified organisms (the bulk of soy and corn production in the US involves GMOs), both proponents and opponents of the measure agreed that roughly 70 percent of your supermarket would suddenly sprout conspicuous labels reading "Produced with Genetic Engineering" or "Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering."
Finally! A real sense of how many GMOs you're consuming. A better ability to make an informed choice about what you put into your body, and when.
Adding to the measure's appeal, its opponents are running on an avalanche of cash from shadowy multinational corporations like Monsanto, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Hormel—enthusiasm that's all but made Measure 92 the most moneyed race in Oregon's history. You have every reason to question these companies' interest in this matter, and every reason to doubt that interest has to do with your well-being.
And yet, after much debate, we're coming down just on the "no" side of this issue.
The essential problem is dishonesty. Measure 92's proponents argue it's all about helping consumers make an informed choice. They insisted in our interview they have no problem with GMOs, and no other motives, ulterior or not, besides the spread of information.
But this campaign—like identical efforts that narrowly failed in California and Washington recently—is quite clearly a bid to get food companies to abandon GMOs, a backdoor attempt at altering our agricultural landscape.
See, the science we possess on GMOs indicates they're almost certainly safe to eat. Indeed, the Yes on 92 representatives who attended our endorsement interview acknowledged purchasing and eating GMO products all the time. But there's a clear motive for wanting "conspicuous" labeling on those foods, and it's not to remind consumers that GMOs are harmless. Without sufficient context, a label is likely to sow doubt or apprehension in shoppers who assume it's a warning, and that there's a reason they should be warned.
To be clear, we loathe the state of industrial farming, and acknowledge that GMOs have taken it in the wrong direction. GMO technology in corn and soybeans has increased pesticide use, encouraged monocultures, and led to the rise of pests that are immune to poisons. If you can't stomach the thought of agreeing with Monsanto, or abetting Coca-Cola, we understand completely.
But there are more straightforward ways of trying to change America's problematic farming trends than a labeling measure that takes pains to protest it's not actually out to do that.
And if you really, really care about how your food's produced, there are already labels for you. Any time you buy something labeled organic or "Non-GMO Project Verified" you can be sure you're not contributing to those problematic issues.
City of Portland: Measure 26-159 (Parks Bond Replacement) : YES
TRY SAYING THIS out loud, before this really begins, so you can get yourself in the proper mood: No one's taxes are going to go up if this passes. And again: No one's taxes are going to go up if this passes.
We're starting here in our discussion of Measure 26-159—which asks us to replace Portland's expiring 20-year parks bond—because that seems to be the most important thing voters keep needing to hear when considering this indisputably important measure.
Saying no would starve Portland Parks and Recreation of $68 million it otherwise wouldn't have—money that'll help make a dent in a $365 million maintenance backlog, from fixing playgrounds in every quadrant of the city to keeping workers safe by rebuilding the vulnerable Mount Tabor Maintenance Yards to waterproofing Pioneer Courthouse Square's leaky brickwork.
But when voters were asked about the bond measure in a poll this spring, the fear of park closures and a dimmed urban star didn't move the needle nearly as much as something else: the upfront assurance that renewing the thing wouldn't cost any more money ($13 a year for the average homeowner) than Portlanders have already been paying.
So if that's what you need to hear to keep from doing something stupid, because you're mad about all the other reasons city hall's asking for money, then fine. Let's say it one more time: No one's taxes are going to go up if this passes.
And then go do the right thing.
Metro: Measure 26-160 (Retain Density Limits) : YES
"INFILL DEVELOPMENT" already tumbles with some derision from the lips of Portlanders who can't fucking believe how many tall, skinny houses and formulaic foursquares our city's builders have been constructing on large lots that once held elegant, if worn, older homes.
Neighbors are already struggling to find purchase for their demands, issued to the city's historic landmarks commission and Portland City Council, that the tide remaking our residential neighborhoods be slowed and shaped by those who'll also be affected.
It's a tricky argument to make. Smart density is our future, so long as people keep coming here, year after year, lofting current housing prices ever higher on the wings of all that never-ending demand. But shitty, sloppy density might also wreck the same neighborhoods that people are so willing to pay up to fill.
Enter Measure 26-160, which is all about making sure beleaguered density skeptics don't find themselves with one more board to convince: the Metro Council. We tend to forget about our regional government, letting it run cemeteries and the zoo and trash in peace.
But Metro's also got a stake in housing policy. As part of that role, it could conceivably compel local governments to increase density in their residential neighborhoods.
Twelve years ago, voters decided to rein in that power. That vote established a timeline for a rethinking, which is why it's come back now. Saying yes again might not make things better, but it'll sure be a good way to not make things worse.
Portland Public Schools: Measure 26-161 (Renew Tax Levy) : YES
IN 2011, Portlanders voted to increase their property taxes for five years—a relatively easy win that put millions into Portland Public Schools (PPS). The resulting money, according to PPS, pays for 600 teaching positions. It's vital to keeping the district going.
But not long after the 2011 vote, officials realized something odd. State law, in its infinite wisdom, required PPS to hand over some of that new money to the Portland Development Commission—about $7.5 million. Legislators closed that loophole last year, but specified that the change would apply only to new levies. Now PPS has a question: Are Portlanders willing to vote a couple of years early to continue that tax hike, so our schools can collect the money they'd expected back in 2011?
Go ahead and do it.
A "yes" vote will extend the levy until 2020. But your taxes won't increase one bit (the levy's $1.99 per $1,000 of assessed property value)—even though PPS now stands to rake in an additional $4.4 million in 2015-2016, bringing its overall haul, next year, up to $64.3 million.
This is an easy, painless call.