Police, prisons and posturing

The 2009 Legislature is closing in on adjournment after dealing with the worst recession in recent memory. As always, the issues threatening to delay the final gavel involve money. One of those issues is a plan by majority Democrats to delay implementing Ballot Measure 57 to save some of that money and avoid more cuts, specifically to the Oregon State Police and other public-safety programs.

We said in May that putting off full implementation of Measure 57 for two years made sense given the economic realities, and that we thought most voters would agree. We still think so, but you wouldn't know it to listen to Republican leaders in Salem.

The Legislature sponsored Measure 57 as an alternative to a much more expensive initiative backed by former legislator Kevin Mannix. Voters chose the legislative version and rejected the Mannix plan.

Measure 57 calls for longer mandatory sentences for repeat property and drug-crime offenders. The Democrats' proposal would delay some of the longer sentences, but would still impose stiffer penalties for some crimes, including identity theft against the elderly and selling large amounts of drugs to minors.

The Republican reaction has been predictable. Las week, state GOP Chairman Bob Tiernan accused the Democrats of "ignoring the will of the voters," and said the move "demonstrates just how out of touch the Democrats are with the majority of Oregon voters."

That is political posturing and nothing more.

This is the same GOP that howled when the Democrats increased income taxes for wealthy Oregonians and updated the corporate minimum tax for the first time since 1931, saying government should "live within its means." Apparently, that principle doesn't apply when voters say they want to increase state spending but the state doesn't have the money.

We doubt a majority of voters think the state should cut existing public-safety spending to pay for new public-safety spending rather than wait and end up with both.

The two-year delay in some, but not all of Measure 57's provisions, will allow the state to continue to support key parts of the public safety budget, including maintaining 24-hour coverage by state troopers and keeping the doors open at juvenile corrections facilities. In two years, Measure 57 will take full effect.

That's a deal the voters ought to support, and Republicans in Salem should, too.

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