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Our Opinion: After contentious election, it's time to work for common good

Post-election days are filled with second guessing. If Bud Pierce had distanced himself from Donald Trump earlier, would he be making plans to move into Mahonia Hall? If Chris Telfer hadn’t run as an Independent, would Republican Jeff Gudman, not Democrat Tobias Read, be our next treasurer?

Here’s the one that haunts us: What if a political contest hadn’t happened at all?

Let’s imagine for a moment that all the emotion, energy and money — $42 million and still counting — that went into campaigns for and against Measure 97, instead, had been spent in a different way.

What if public employee unions that so passionately supported Measure 97 and business groups that so effectively opposed it had, instead, done the harder work? What if rather than distorting each others’ positions, they collaborated on an equitable revenue and spending plan? And instead of questioning each others’ motives, what if they had instead joined forces to educate Oregon voters to the wisdom of their proposal?

Is it possible that Oregonians could have broken the decades-long stalemate over how to adequately fund state government? We think so.

But instead, following Measure 97’s defeat on Tuesday, Oregon is back where it started.

The most urgent problem is the $1.4 billion state budget shortfall for the 2017-19 biennium. The longer-range challenge requires identifying ways to fund government services — particularly education — at a level that actually allows for improvement, not just an unsatisfactory status quo.

Throughout this divisive campaign, we have been clear we agree with Measure 97 supporters’ argument that Oregon needs to change its tax system and increase state revenue.

But we have argued just as loudly that Measure 97 was a poorly designed proposal that overreached the revenue needs. It was an inequitable tax, based not on sound policy but on favorable polling showing support for the fairy tale that when businesses are taxed they will magically shelter their customers from the added expense.

During the campaign, supporters of Measure 97 essentially argued that everything had been tried and their 2.5 percent gross-receipts tax was the only answer. With Measure 97 off the table, however, they must face the hard reality that other solutions must be developed.

Likewise, the business groups opposed to Measure 97 need to understand this was a wake-up call. Rather than take a victory lap, they need to come to the table and be prepared to compromise.

The idea that there are no other options is both incorrect and unacceptable. Here are some possibilities:

n Crafting a much smaller, fairer and intelligently designed gross receipts tax, as proposed by state Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton.

n Adjusting the property tax caps of the 1990s.

n Doing away with the personal kicker.

n Taking another run at reining in the expanding cost of the Public Employees Retirement System.

n Reducing state spending in other areas to increase spending on public schools.

n Proposing a truly progressive sales tax.

n Revisiting other revenue proposals, including a carbon tax, the subject of a 2013 study.

We already can hear the howls of protest: Voters will never give up their kicker, reconsider the property tax caps or approve a sales tax, no matter how progressive.

But it’s important to remember two things: There are lots of ideas out there besides these, and some of the state’s brightest minds just spent massive amounts of money fighting each other. Just think what could have happened if they were working toward a common outcome.

Gov. Kate Brown, whose tenure was extended by two years in Tuesday’s election, must convene talks now among the key parties — the unions, the business associations and leaders of both parties. Their task is to address the shortfall legislators will face when they convene in January, and also work toward a more permanent solution.

And taxpayers must recognize there is no free ride when it comes to solving the state’s budget woes. As Measure 97’s opponents correctly demonstrated, a tax aimed solely at the bogeyman of big business won’t leave everyone else unscathed.

As frequent and vocal critics of Measure 97, the Portland Tribune and the other 24 newspapers in the Pamplin Media Group also have a responsibility to assist in the search for practical and viable revenue and spending reforms. To that end, we will reach out to people on both sides of this issue and solicit their ideas for compromise — and we will report their responses in our news and opinion columns.

The election is over, Measure 97 is vanquished, but the big challenges confronting Oregon have yet to be resolved. No one has time to gloat or hold grudges.

Fortunately, the solutions lie not in Washington, D.C., where political gamesmanship rules, but in Salem, where there’s a history of bipartisan cooperation when the stakes are high.

We believe Oregon is still a place where government can work.

But it will require that the public employee unions, the business lobby and the Democrats and Republicans supported by those groups put aside bruised feelings and consider what is best for all of Oregon.