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Secretary of State Bill Bradbury is intent on keeping a voters' pamphlet available for Oregonians. The pamphlet provides information for voters in helping them decide on ballot measures or candidates.

But given the realities of the state budget crunch, it might be necessary to end publication of the voters' pamphlet, Bradbury says.

Currently the state funds 70 to 80 percent of the cost of the pamphlet. In good economic times, that may be an appropriate expenditure.

But with the Oregon Legislature struggling with how to pay for public schools, the Oregon Health Plan, senior programs and a myriad of other state services, Bradbury has been forced to figure out how the pamphlet can pay its own way.

Senate Bill 139 proposes to raise the cost of putting a message in the pamphlet, describing a particular candidate or supporting or opposing a ballot measure, by five-fold.

Currently anyone taking out a 30-square-inch (half-page) ad for or against a ballot measure pays $500. That rate would go up to $2,500 under SB 139. A much smaller ad (six square inches) would cost $500. People running for local and state offices ranging from city council to state senator would see the cost of their 30-square-inch ad go from $300 to $1,500. The ad rate for a person seeking a statewide or federal office, such as governor or U.S. representative, would increase from the current $1,000 to $5,000.

While we understand the need for the pamphlet to meet its expenses, a 500 percent rate increase would result in a reduction in the number of statements appearing in the pamphlet. Some voters, concerned about how large the pamphlet has become in recent elections, may welcome fewer statements to pore over. A five-fold increase in cost is excessive, however.

The secretary of state should take a look at how he can reduce the costs of the pamphlet. Is the distribution to all households necessary? Could the pamphlet be sent only to registered voters? Or could it be left in public places, such as post offices, libraries and banks, where people can pick up a copy?

The state also should study any cost savings that might occur if newspapers in each county publish the pamphlet for local residents. The secretary of state could send basic information electronically to each newspaper on each statewide candidate and measure. County clerks could provide basic information on local candidates and measures. Each paper could solicit paid pro-and-con arguments or candidate support for the pamphlet, much the way it sells space to advertisers.

The voters' pamphlet is a valuable tool for Oregonians. More thought is needed in how to produce or distribute it at less expense. A rate increase of 500 percent to people buying space within it should be avoided if possible.


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