February 23rd, 2011 | by NIGEL JAQUISS News | Posted In: Legislature, Politics, Environment

Nature Conservancy Now Unhappy With Lottery Measure Referral

Oregon State Capitol.Oregon's Capitol Building

 


Last fall, Oregon voters approved Measure 76, which continued a requirement that 15 percent of state lottery proceeds be set aside for parks and wildlife (about $160 million per biennium).

Before that statewide vote on continuing the 15-percent set-aside before its expiration, the measure's proponents agreed with legislative leaders that the ballot measure contained flaws. Among the environmental groups taking that stance was the Nature Conservancy, which bankrolled the measure.

So in exchange for lawmakers' agreement not to oppose the measure, three leading environmental groups, including the Nature Conservancy, agreed in writing to support a referral from the 2011 Legislature to fix those flaws. (WW recommended a "no" vote on the measure, which passed 69 percent to 31 percent, reasoning that proponents should start over if a constitutional amendment was so flawed as to need a substantial, subsequent legislative fix.). Now the Nature Conservancy is backing away from that commitment.

In a legislative hearing this week, the Nature Conservancy's government affairs director Nan Evans told lawmakers her group has serious concerns about the proposed legislative referral, House Joint Resolution 29. Evans acknowledged the Nature Conservancy signed a memo agreeing to support the referral but says the group worries that the proposed fix gives too much money to state agencies and not enough to grant-funded projects carried out by contractors.

"We had not intended a change in the split between grant and agency funding," Evans told the House Energy and Environment and Water Committee on Feb. 22. "In retrospect, the discussions [last summer about tweaking the measure] were not clear enough. We did not have a shared understanding."

That position is causing some heartburn for legislative leaders, who are looking under Capitol couch cushions for pennies and do not want to see general fund dollars diverted to support a ballot measure they only grudgingly supported. The time to get the Nature Conservancy and other skeptics on board with HJR 29 is growing short. Lawmakers want to get a referral on the May ballot and to do that they need to get proposed language to the Secretary of State by mid-March.


If you want to know the back story on last year's agreement, the paragraph below is an excerpt from an Aug. 3, 2010 memo signed by lawmakers, including then-House Speaker Dave Hunt (D-Gladstone), the Nature Conservancy's Russ Hoeflich, Oregon League of Conservation Voters' Jon Isaacs and the Trust for Public Lands' Josh Alpert.


This memo, the resulting legislative referral, and the implementation necessary for IP 70/ M76
are a priority for House Leadership in partnership with the conservation community. House
Leadership will draft the legislative referral, and will include [lawyer]Roy Pulvers in the drafting process. The conservation community below agrees to support a legislative referral matching this
agreement, including a voters' pamphlet statement in support. The parties below agree to publicly
support the partnership embodied in this agreement.


That memo satisfied lawmakers' many concerns. Among their worries were that Measure 76 contained no provision for "sunsetting" or expiring; the Lottery set-aside could grow faster than the general fund if gambling growth outpaced economic growth; that lawmakers had no ability to over-ride the measure if an emergency arose; and that changing the allocation of the Lottery set-aside might cause the diversion of general fund dollars from other programs, such as K-12 education or natural resource agencies.

That last concern about diversion of dollars would happen because Measure 76 reduced the split of the Lottery set-aside sent to state agencies from 45 percent of the total to 35 percent of the total. So, to continue existing programs, that 10 percent would have to come from elsewhere in the general fund.  (That diversion appears to be the case for the upcoming biennium. The Legislative Fiscal Office estimates that implementing Measure 76 will cost the general fund $8.5 million, which could have gone to other uses).


 
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