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Petition process fatally flawed

For the last two days OSPIRG has been pounding the pavement in search of student signatures to get a ballot measure onto the spring ASPSU ballot.

On Saturday, the Evaluation and Constitutional Review (E&CR) Committee approved the following language for the measure:

“Do you support the continued funding of OSPIRG (Oregon Student Public Interest Research Group) at a rate which reflects an average of $1.99 per student per term for a total of $119,820 for the 2003-2004 school year? Students currently support OSPIRG at $119,820 for the 2002-2003 school year. This vote would overturn a decision by the ASPSU student fee committee to fund OSPIRG at a conditional $21,000.”

Important questions about our current ballot measure process have yet to be addressed by student government, and some have quite simply been ignored.

The first question is fairly basic: Is this petition for a referendum or an initiative? While the difference seems minute, the lack of clarity could cause the measure’s invalidation.

The 2002 State Initiative and Referendum Manual states an initiative “gives voters the power to enact new laws, change existing laws or amend the Oregon constitution.” A referendum, however, “gives voters the ability to reject legislation adopted by the Oregon Legislature.”

In plain language, an initiative creates something new (like a new student fee), while a referendum simply overturns a government decision (like cutting a group’s funding), requiring the government agency to re-examine the issue.

Neither ASPSU nor OSPIRG seem to understand this difference. At the E&CR meeting, the discussion was about referenda, but our constitution doesn’t have guidelines for referenda – only initiatives.

OSPIRG seems to be asking students to both overrule the SFC decision and create new fees.

Secondly, the wording of the question is unacceptable. The ASPSU SFC guidelines state that ballots must include the current allocation of student fees (the guidelines are unclear as to whether that would be last year’s allocation of $119,820 for this year, or the current allocation of $21,000 for next year), the total amount requested, and an estimate of how much each student will have to pay.

The above ballot language states that the average student will pay $1.99 per term. Not only does the question disguise the fact that OSPRIG is asking for this amount in addition to the $131 per term that full-time students pay now in student fees, but we still don’t know if they are referring to a three-term year (at $5.97 per year) or a four-term year (at $7.96 per year).

While E&CR members agreed that they did not know which figure was applicable on Saturday, the committee chose to approve the initiative regardless.

Finally, there is a gross lack of oversight written into our constitution. While it is stipulated petition signatures must come from PSU students, there is no body charged with verifying the signatures gathered.

And though Article VI, section 3b of the SFC guidelines states, “No group other than ASPSU may use money in their current budget on their own behalf in an initiative campaign,” there is no financial reporting required to ensure existing student fees are not used by a group that wishes to use the ballot to seek funding.

The E&CR is currently in the process of re-evaluating and changing the ASPSU constitution for approval by voters in the spring election. We are fearful of the potential consequences these glaring inconsistencies and contradictions could inflict upon student groups and the university, and urge the members to consider them in their deliberations.