A Throwback to County Rule

Another proposal to amend the Oregon Constitution from the Mannix shop is called the “Oregon Lottery Local Control Act,” a strange idea indeed. The amendment would make it a matter of constitutional importance that the state give up half the funds that the state raises through the Oregon State Lottery.
Instead of the state lottery proceeds going to state needs, as determined by the representatives from across the state, this initiative would create a slush fund for each county, where the county commissioners would apportion the half of the total revenue taken away from the state legislature.

From the share going to Oregon’s 36 counties, 10% (5% of the total state lottery take) would be divided up equally, with the other 90% (45% of total lottery revenue) divided by the counties according to how much of the state’s total lottery revenue was provided by the math-challenged residents in each county. Thus, this proposal reverses the trend of the 20th Century, where court decisions from the civil rights era onward did away with the “county rule” idea that had dominated politics, particularly in the South, and had led to gross distortions in political power. Under County Rule systems, counties, often sparsely populated compared to cities, take a preferred position in governance and taxation policy. Before the “one person, one vote” era, legislators were often elected along county lines, so that voters in densely populated cities had only a fraction of the voting power of their rural cousins. This amendment recalls that era, proposing to reward sparsely populated rural counties for being sparsely populated rural counties.
So counties like Malheur and Wheeler may want this badly: Even if there are no lottery tickets sold in those counties all year, they would each be in line for a 5/36th share of the half-share of state lottery take, no questions asked, no strings allowed. A little less than a seventh of a percent does not sound like much – until you realize that the Oregon State Lottery generates about half a billion dollars a year in revenue, so a 5/36th share of half of that revenue is about $35 million. What is unclear is why voters in the populous counties in the Willamette Valley would want to vote to reduce the share of lottery funds that could wind up benefiting themselves. And the next question, should this idea somehow pass, is how long before the Portland metro counties get together and propose a different allocation entirely, one that gives a bonus to the “top producer” counties that generate the vast bulk of the lottery proceeds. The rural counties would be in no position to complain, having themselves established the idea that the distribution of lottery funds is something for counties to fight for.

The People of Oregon hereby amend Article XV of the Oregon Constitution by adding the following section to be inserted before Section 5:

  1. The People declare that it is desirable for counties to receive a share of State Lottery proceeds so county governments may determine the best use of such funds for public purposes within each county.


  1. Effective July 1, 2017, 50% of the net proceeds from the State Lottery shall be deposited in a county revenue distribution fund to be created by the Legislative Assembly.  Earnings on moneys in the county revenue distribution fund shall be retained in the fund and distributed for the public purposes described in this section.  The Legislative Assembly may appropriate other moneys or revenue to the county revenue distribution fund.


  1.  The county revenue distribution fund shall be distributed to counties as follows:
  1. Ten percent of the moneys must be allocated and distributed to all counties in an equal amount for each county;  and
  2. Ninety percent of the moneys must be allocated and distributed to all counties in the same proportion for each county as the State Lottery generates gross proceeds from such county.


  1. The counties shall use funds received from the county revenue distribution fund for any of the following public purposes: creating jobs; furthering economic development; financing public education; restoring and protecting parks, beaches, watersheds and native fish and wildlife; and providing public safety.


  1. Each county may distribute funds to other units of government such as cities, towns, or school districts, operating within the county, provided the funds are used for purposes listed in paragraph (4) of this section.


  1. The Legislative Assembly shall enact legislation to implement the distribution of moneys under paragraphs (2) and (3) of this section, but may not establish substantive limitations on the distribution of those moneys or additional restrictions on the use of those moneys.


  1. This Amendment is self-executing and shall be effective upon passage.