Press "Enter" to skip to content

Not enough title

Nothing unusual (or Oregon or Washington) on the face of this: Someone’s unhappy about the title being placed on a ballot issue, and don’t be surprised if a lawsuit develops.

What we have here is actually two ballot issues, Oregon Referenda 66 and 67, both referring to the voters the question of whether to sustain or repeal two tax increases (one on income tax for incomes over $250,000, the other on the minimum corporate tax) imposed by the last legislature.

A post on Oregon Catalyst, “Ballot titles new partisan low,” by Senator Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, argues that the titles are written with bias toward passage: “The committee didn’t just skew the language to favor the tax increases, they left out important information that might reflect negatively on the tax increases, like the fact that these tax increases are retroactive to the beginning of this year. The ballot title also ignores that very important fact that these tax increases are permanent, not a temporary fix that expires after two years.”

The problem is that you could always run through items to add or subtract in a title, but the title isn’t there to make a comprehensive case either way – there’ll be room for that elsewhere in in the voters guides – and these don’t.

The Eugene Register-Guard, which weighed in on the titles, said in an editorial today that “Fights over ballot titles are a routine feature of the political maneuvering that precedes a vote on ballot measures in Oregon, just as challenging referees’ calls is part of the game of basketball. So it is with the ballot titles a legislative panel has drafted for the two tax measures that are up for a statewide vote in January. Both, however, are exactly what ballot titles are meant to be: concise summaries of the measures and their effects.” Each does with some accuracy say that what’s at issue is a tax increase (that being the key red-flag language anyway), each described with some clarity.

Or almost. One of the points of squabble has to do with what exactly the results of repealing the taxes would be. Ferrioli has a reasonable point in this area: “The ballot titles are also quick to include statements that are purely speculation, such as what type of cuts would have to be made if the tax increases are defeated. Unless the committee has a crystal ball, there is no way they can know what the specific cuts would have to entail.”

So, herewith a proposed constitutional amendment for Oregon (and Washington) concerning ballot issue which have fiscal impact, whether on the tax or spending side:

All ballot issues should have to account (as legislatures do) for both sides, revenue and appropriation. If the main point of a ballot issue is to reduce (or increase) revenue, then it should also provide how that reduction (or increase) should be handled on the spending side. If a ballot issue is aimed at the spending side (as has happened in Washington on teacher pay, for example), then it should also provide for where the money to pay for the expense would come from. In other words, ballot issues should have to balance the books, the same as legislators do.

Which would seem on the surface to be what Ferrioli is calling for . . . one would think . . .

Share on Facebook


  1. willNeuhauser willNeuhauser October 21, 2009

    I’m not sure how you’d do that in practice without presenting an alternative budget, but it is an interesting idea.

    What you raise is fundamentally the problem with almost all voter referrals, such as those in Damascus and those proposed for Yamhill County, Lafayette, Newberg and Estacada to require a vote of the people for tax, fee or charge increases: the referrals and the voters don’t actually have to make the hard choices about what to do if the tax/fee/charge is turned down – cut costs? which ones? subsidize user fees out of general taxpayer funds? (how is that fair??) borrow?

    Which, um, is why we have a representative democracy: to balance all the tradeoffs and be kicked out of office if voters think the balance isn’t good.

  2. salperalta salperalta October 24, 2009

    I have mixed feelings about the process in this case. One the one hand, Legislators are asking people to support their legislation by voting “yes” on the referendum, so it seems proper that they are entitled to draft a ballot title that describes the measure. On the other hand, the whole point of the referendum is as a public check on legislative power. Seen through that lens, a case can be made that the legislature has essentially usurped the process — though not to the degree they attempted (i.e., the “Yes means no” bill they attempted at the 11th hour in the 2009 session).

Comments are closed.