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The time has come for you to hunt down your wayward ballot for the Jan. 23 special election. Considering the turnout thus far, chances are good that the ballot still is lurking somewhere in the house, possibly buried in the pile of correspondence and catalogs you deliberately set aside for later consideration.

Well, the catalogs can wait. 

But the ballot cannot.

You have until 8 p.m. Tuesday to return your ballot to one of the drop-off boxes conveniently scattered throughout the county. It's too late to drop it in the mail. 

So why not take care of this today? Find the ballot. Mark it. Track down the ballot box location closest to you. Drop off your ballot.

As you hunt down the ballot, though, you might recall why you set it aside for later: That's because this election features just one item, Measure 101, which asks voters to decide the fate of new taxes to help fund Oregon's Medicaid program.

"Ah, yes," you might be saying to yourself. "This one is complicated."

You're right. Measure 101 is complicated. And there are good arguments on both sides of the measure. For what it's worth, our editorial (somewhat reluctantly) called for a "yes" vote.

Here's a primer for last-minute voters:

The 2017 Legislature faced a big budget hole, in part because of an expansion of Medicaid services in Oregon. (In this state, we call Medicaid the Oregon Health Plan.) The result is that more Oregonians are able to access health care.

But as early as 2014, state officials knew that Oregon would have to pay a bigger share of the Medicaid expansion, beginning in 2017. Despite this knowledge,  state officials did nothing until their backs were against the wall. Last year, legislators and state officials cobbled together a $455 million plan to pay for some of the expansion. Legislative opponents of the plan referred parts of it to voters in the form of Measure 101.

Measure 101 targets these provisions of the funding plan:

• A 0.7 percent tax on hospital net revenues.

• A 1.5 percent tax on premiums of health insurance companies, the Public Employees’ Benefit Board and coordinated care organizations (the regional organizations that administer the Oregon Health Plan). There's been debate about whether to call these charges as "taxes" or "assessments." We don't think there's much, if any, difference, frankly.

If voters reject the measure, that blows a hole in the state budget that could be anywhere between $210 million to $320 million. Legislators would have to find a way to plug that, especially since that money is used to match federal Medicaid dollars, meaning the potential impact on the state budget could be closer to $1 billion. Supporters of Measure 101 say that losing the money could jeopardize services for some Oregon Health Plan recipients. They worry that the Legislature might have to raid other parts of the state budget or trim back Oregon Health Plan services to fill that hole.

Opponents of Measure 101 say they don't intend for Oregon residents to lose access to health care; instead, they say, legislators should be able to find the money needed to qualify for the matching federal dollars without the taxes. Our support for Measure 101 rests primarily on our unwillingness to take that risk; trimming the rolls of the Oregon Health Plan would be a big step backward. But we are sympathetic to the arguments against the measure.

Proponents of Measure 101 say it's meant as a two-year temporary fix. And, frankly, regardless of the results of Tuesday's election, we should hold state officials to that promise: The money for this Medicaid expansion should come from the state's general fund.

One more note for voters to keep in mind: Because of the occasionally sketchy process by which the measure came to the ballot, the voting process is a little counterintuitive. If you want to vote in favor of the taxes, vote "yes." If you're against the taxes, vote "no." But, by all means, vote. (mm)



Managing Editor

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