Protecting the "victims"

Steve Buckstein

There’s no one right or wrong way to hold an election in a democracy. Three times since 1996 Oregon voters have approved the so-called “double majority rule” for local property tax measures in other than general elections. Basically, the rule requires that for a tax measure to pass at least half of all eligible voters must vote, and half of those voting must vote Yes.

In my testimony* before a Senate committee against moves to eliminate the double majority rule, I renamed it the “25 percent rule” because what it really does is require that at least 25 percent of all eligible voters approve a tax increase on everyone else (one-half of all eligible voters showing up multiplied by one-half of those voting Yes = 25 percent).

The Majority Leader of the Oregon House testified before me at the same hearing. In his view, the double majority rule has created a number of “victims,” namely local taxing districts that saw their bond measures fail because, even though a majority of those showing up at the polls voted Yes, less than half of all eligible voters participated.

In response, I told the committee members that if we’re going to talk about victims, then we should recognize that before the 25 percent rule many taxpayers were “victims” because fewer than 25 percent of eligible voters had been able to impose tax increases on them.

What I didn’t say, but should have, is that such “victimization” is a perennial feature of politics. Whether it’s 25 percent, or 50 percent, or 90 percent of your neighbors voting to tax your property when you disapprove, politics, by design, creates winners and losers.

Contrast that with the marketplace, where each of us votes with our dollars to buy the goods and services we prefer, regardless of how many of our neighbors make other choices.

So, until we find ways to move more areas of our lives outside the political process, protections like the double majority rule are important to ensure that we at least have some limits on the numbers of losers, or “victims,” in the system.

* Listen to the entire hearing. My testimony, including questions from legislators and my responses, begins at 18:18 into the hearing.

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