By Shelby Sebens | Northwest Watchdog
PORTLAND — The Oregon Republican Party says a ballot measure gives the governor too much spending power in the event of a catastrophic disaster.
But the lawmakers who wrote the measure — also Republicans — say that’s exactly what the proposal is intended to avoid in light of other current options and the state’s fragile geology.
Measure 77 would amend the state constitution to lift spending restrictions on the governor and Legislature to deal with a catastrophic disaster such as an earthquake, volcano, tsunami and act of terrorism.
The proposal also allows the governor to declare a disaster for 30 days but requires him to convene the Legislature if it’s not already in session. But not all lawmakers need to be present in order for spending decisions to be made.
Despite the bill passing the General Assembly with overwhelming support last year, the Republican Party only recently made its objections apparent. This month, the party opposed Measure 77 on its list of recommendations for ballot measures, and the party’s central committee also voted against it.
“The consensus was overwhelmingly that this gives the governor too much power,” Oregon Republican Party Chief of Staff Greg Leo said. “To give the governor 30 days carte blanche completely over the role that local governments would play was a concern”
Leo said another sticking point was the local governments being left out of the measure and any emergency funding decisions that would affect them.
The measure would allow:
- The governor to tap into the general and lottery funds even if that money was intended for other purposes;
- The Legislature, by a vote of two-thirds present instead of two-thirds of the General Assembly, to use lottery and highway funds and taxpayer refund money and exceed the debt limit;
- The Legislature to meet off-site.
The Republican Party’s position on Measure 77 frustrated state Rep. Gene Whisnant, R-Sunriver, and state Sen. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, who helped write the measure that passed the Senate unanimously and with only three no votes in the House in 2011, sending it to the electorate next month.
“We wouldn’t have done this if we thought that we were jeopardizing the constitution or giving the governor more authority,” Whisnant said.
The lawmakers said that without a constitutional amendment, the governor’s only choice in a disaster would be to suspend the constitution and declare martial law.
“That’s where we are today,” Boquist said, adding that the intent of the measure was to put into place a mechanism for how the governor and Legislature would handle, say, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake along the Cascadia fault line.
“The fact remains Oregon does have a geological history of the Cascadia fault line,” Boquist said. “We’re simply ticking down the clock until it happens.”
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, communities in the Pacific Northwest are at risk for potential earthquakes. Earthquakes along the fault line could be huge, 9.0 or higher, and produce tsunamis.
Whisnant, who says he explained the measure to party members before the state party made its decision, said he was disturbed by the apparent disconnect between the House Republicans and the state party leaders.
“Are we together? What’s the deal here?” he asked.
Contact Shelby Sebens at Shelby@NorthwestWatchdog.org, or follow her on Twitter @ShelbySebens. For more Northwest Watchdog updates, visit Facebook and Twitter.