Given an opportunity to help the Oregon Legislature balance the state's budget by passing a flawed tax measure, voters demurred: Measure 97, which would have slapped a 2.5 percent tax on gross sales above $25 million for certain Oregon corporations, was rebuffed in this month's election.
Voters in only two of Oregon's 36 counties, Multnomah and Benton, supported it.
Had the measure passed, it would have generated about $3 billion in revenue a year, and supporters said the money would have gone to health care, K-12 education and senior services.
Now, though, legislators will gather next year to face a $1.4 billion shortfall in the two-year budget cycle that begins July 2017.
And it gets worse: Sooner or later, they'll have to come up with the cash to pay for the high school dropout programs that voters approved in Measure 98. The other measures voters approved last week at least have funding sources — they'll take the cash from lottery revenue, money that in some cases had been earmarked for economic development.
There is a little bit of good budgetary news: The state currently has been on the "boom" side of its notoriously steep boom-or-bust cycle. But no one expects additional tax revenue to fill the $1.4 billion gap required for the state to maintain its current services and programs through 2019.
The thumping that Measure 97 took statewide will make it harder for legislators to entertain notions of tax increases; early signs are that Gov. Kate Brown will not include any of those in the budget she submits on Dec. 1. She has said, however, that the budget would include "a number of heartbreaking cuts."
But this is not the time to walk away from the hard work required to overhaul the state's tax system and to deal with the issues that are driving big increases in expenses, notably the state's Public Employees Retirement System.
We'd start by taking another look at a proposal floated last year by Beaverton Sen. Mark Hass, who pitched a plan to replace Oregon's corporate income tax with a new commercial activity tax. Hass said at the time the proposal might raise $500 million a year. It could be a starting point for fresh discussion.
We'd take another hard look at the some of the PERS ideas floated by legislators such as Sens. Betsy Johnson and Tim Knopp and Rep. Dan Rayfield.
Finally, it could be that Oregon taxpayers have voted the way they have in part because they truly want to see a smaller state government. They might be fine with some of the cuts Brown has in mind, but the first step is for her to spell out, as clearly as possible, what exactly that entails.