Aug. 23, 2013 – Securing our Safety, an Oregon political action committee, has partnered with the Oregon Anti-Crime Alliance Foundation to propose a Constitutional amendment that would change the way Lottery funds are distributed across the state.
The group is currently gathering signatures to create a ballot initiative which would give voters the choice to re-direct the flow of Lottery dollars more evenly back into their own communitites.
“We are trying to put on a ballot initiative that would allocate 50 percent of Oregon Lottery dollars back to the counties they were generated in,” Cliff Thomason, the chief petitioner, told NBC5.
Securing our Safety wants to give county governments the power to decide how Lottery funds are allocated, rather than leaving it in the hands of state-level lawmakers in the capital.
The group’s website explains that “generally speaking,” the counties would be able to use the money for “any major local school or local government need.”
Much of the support at the county-government level has been for public safety funding. Coos County Commissioner Bob Main told the Statesman Journal earlier this month that public safety there was “hanging on by a thread” because of funding issues.
“Sometimes the DA has to determine whether it is even worth prosecuting someone and holding them because they have more grievous crimes to deal with,” Main said. “…the judge has to determine who to let go because the jail… is full.”
While Securing our Safety’s plan would allow county governments to decide how to spend a large chunk of Lottery-generated state dollars, the group says it would not threaten education funding – where the majority of Lottery dollars go now.
The state Constitution requires 18 percent of Lottery dollars be spent on public education, and 15 percent on state parks and environmental and economic concerns. However, if Securing our Safety’s initiative were to pass, state lawmakers would only be left with 17 percent of the Lottery’s profits to distribute according to these percentages.
The initiative would allow counties to spend Lottery dollars according to their own priorities – including public safety, which the state Senate does not support with Lottery funds.
Jim Green, deputy executive director for the Oregon School Boards Association, believes the shift in control over Lottery dollars would be catastrophic for school boards, which he says are more limited in the ways they can raise money.
“Counties have a multitude of ways to [raise money],” Green told the Statesman Journal. “Frankly, I don’t think their counties are doing a good job of explaining why their services are valuable.”
“They haven’t been able to convince their constituents to stand up and pay for services and now they are going to come raid the lottery fund. I don’t think the state ought to be the entity to bail them out, and I think they would be bailing them out on the backs of school kids,” Green said.