The secretary of states office has begun the tedious, and sometimes contentious, process of verifying signatures on initiative petitions, and has until early next month to determine which ones will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot. Seven measures appear to have enough signatures to qualify. As a group, this years measures are striking in two respects: Many deal with matters that Oregonians have decided before, and none of them deal directly with the biggest issues facing the state.
Oregonians will probably vote on whether to allow a non-tribal casino in the Portland area, just as they did in 2010, whether to ban gillnet fishing on the Columbia River, a retread from 1992, and whether to legalize marijuana, a question posed in 1986.
Not all the measures are reruns, but the first-time proposals are limited in reach. An initiative to ban real estate transfer taxes has qualified for the ballot; such taxes arent collected anywhere in Oregon except Washington County, and that tax would be exempt from the ban. Another measure would repeal Oregons estate tax, which is paid by a small fraction of estates. Yet another would end corporate tax refunds under Oregons kicker law, while leaving the larger and more frequent personal income tax kicker refunds in place.
Absent from the ballot are the big social issues of the day abortion and gay rights. Oregonians also wont be voting any measures relating to crime or prisons. The state is in the midst of deep transformations of its health care and education systems, and no one is trying to block or advance any part of those efforts. The cost of public pension systems is a pressing issue in Oregon and across the country, but theres no proposal relating to the states Public Employees Retirement System. Public employees unions are under fire in states across the country, but not in Oregon. Except for minor changes to the kicker law and the estate tax, Oregons system of public finance will look the same after Election Day.
All the issues on the ballot will be important. But in terms of public lawmaking, 2012 will not be a watershed year.