With Auto Surcharge Failing, Ore. Lawmakers Look to Lottery

March 13, 2007

With Ore. Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s proposed surcharge on auto insurance to pay for more state troopers not gaining any traction, some lawmakers are pushing for a proposal to set aside $65 million in lottery proceeds to increase patrols.

The idea pitched by four lawmakers Wednesday would enable the Oregon State Police to hire an additional 282 troopers — more than twice as many as Kulongoski is proposing –without raising taxes or fees to do it.

Rep. Vicki Berger said it makes sense to use $65 million in lottery revenue that’s supposed to go for economic development programs to pay for more police protection of roads and highways because it would make the state a more attractive place for business investment.

“There is a clear nexus between economic development and someone being there to answer the phone when something happens out on the highway,” Berger said. She is sponsoring the bill along with fellow Salem Republican Rep. Kim Thatcher and Democratic Reps. Jeff Barker of Aloha and Deborah Boone of Cannon Beach.

In his 2007-09 budget proposal, Kulongoski suggested a surcharge on auto insurance premiums, estimated to cost the average family an additional $12 to $24 a year to pay for more troopers.

Kulongoski spokeswoman Anna Richter Taylor said despite the lack of legislative support, the governor hasn’t given up on his auto insurance idea. However, Kulongoski is open to other ideas to create a dedicated source of funding for more state troopers, she said.

Other proposals also are being floated around the Capitol by lawmakers and others, such as a possible increase in the state beer tax to pay for more troopers, she noted.

“This is a step in the right direction,” Richter Taylor said. “The governor thinks we ought to put all these ideas on the table and have an honest conversation with the public about the best way to support an adequate police force.”

Oregon has the country’s fewest number of state troopers per capita — one for every 14,285 residents. The number has fallen from 665 in 1979, when dedicated funding was cut, to 331 this year.

State police backers argue that without permanent funding, public safety will be compromised because there aren’t enough state police on the road to stop drug runners, respond to accidents or help stranded motorists.

In testimony Wednesday before the House Revenue Committee, Senior Trooper Jeff Leighty, president of the Oregon State Police Officers’ Association, echoed earlier comments that restoring 24-hour patrol coverage of major Oregon highways would boost the state’s business climate.

“No one will visit here or build a new plant here if they feel unsafe,” Leighty said.

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