Since the passage of Measure 37 two years ago, the confusion surrounding land use and property rights has only intensified. An overburdened court system received about 3,400 claims in one three-week period at the end of 2006, according to the Department of Land Conservation and Development. And thousands of claims for previously restricted property developments have been held up by court challenges.
Measure 37 allowed property owners to claim compensation from government, if zoning or local development laws, enacted after they bought their properties, restricted what they could do with their land. Measure 49, says its impact went beyond anything voters intended, and it sets out to fix it.
Simply put, Measure 49 attempts to rein what supporters say are the most negative effects of 37. Landowners still could build up to three houses, but it would disallow large housing developments on valuable farmland, forestland and lands with groundwater shortages. It also would restrict a landowner with a Measure 37 claim from building commercial and industrial developments – such as strip malls, mines – on property that is currently not zoned for such purposes.
Under Measure 49, these development rights could be passed on. Surviving spouses and new owners also would be permitted to build homes on property (new owners will have 10 years to build such homes).
Political ads for this measure likely will have a major impact on public opinion. But an analysis in the Oct. 15 edition of 'The Oregonian' showed the inaccuracies in the ads. What the paper found were some exaggerations as well as flat-out lies.
The paper found that the 'Yes on 49' ads exaggerated the amount of money going into the 'No on 49' campaign from large development and timber firms. The figure is $1.6 million – not "millions of dollars." It also noted that the ad fails to say that landowners would need to meet stringent standards to place more than three homes on their land,
Claims in the "No on 49" ads that people were either going to lose everything they had or their retirement income were clearly false, according to the paper's analysis of the measure. Measure 49 will not strip landowners of their property rights completely. Property owners will be able to sell and profit from land that across the state has risen in value. The vast majority of the thousands of Measure 37 claims are for subdivisions and commercial buildings outside Portland's urban growth boundary, and mainly on farm and forest land, according to research by the Sightline Institute of Seattle. So for most urban voters the slogan "It could happen to you," is not accurate.
If Measure 49 fails, Oregon's long history of limiting urban sprawl could be over. Maps of Measure 37 claims crowd the landscape on the outskirts of the Portland Metro area, with the potential to add at least 20,000 new residents outside the urban growth boundary in Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties alone.
Passing Measure 50 would provide health care insurance for about 100,000 uninsured children in Oregon. To pay for this, the measure enacts an 84-cent increase on a pack of cigarettes and about a 30 percent increase in the tax on other tobacco products.
Seventy percent of the revenue will provide funding for the Healthy Kids Program, while the other 30 percent will break down to 8 percent for tobacco prevention programs, 4 percent for safety net clinics and rural health programs, and 18 percent for the Oregon Health Plan, providing health care for low-income people.
Estimates by the Secretary of State's office indicate the tax would raise $152.7 million for the 2007-'09 budget period, and an additional $233.2 million in the following two years. Because of the increase in tobacco prices and a decrease in the number of public places that permit smoking, officials acknowledge the likelihood that funding for the health program might be less than anticipated.
Opponents of the measure – who have received funding, about $10 million of it, from several tobacco companies – say this is a prime reason to reject the measure. They contend that once the program is in place and revenue falls, the Legislature will have to find funding elsewhere.
Another reason opponents give to reject the measure is the fact that it writes both the health care programs and the tobacco tax into the Oregon Constitution. It would be the first time the Constitution has been changed to tax one particular product. Other opponents say the tobacco tax unfairly penalizes smokers who already pay higher health and insurance premiums. They argue the tax burdens low-income Oregonians, who make up the majority of the state's smokers.
Supporters say our biggest worry should be the thousands of uninsured Oregon children who are not receiving the health care they need. From Children First for Oregon through Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, almost every medical and child advocacy group is in favor of the measure. Oregon's Constitution has been amended more than 100 times, and for far less worthy reasons, they say. And since the tax would be funding health programs for the state's lower-income wage earners, many of those who pay the tax would benefit from it.