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Let's seize 'the opportunity of this crisis'

A freshman legislator lays out suggestions for how the state can embrace fundamental new approaches in four key areas
Rep. Reuven Carlyle values Crosscut's "prolific, original, on-the-ground reporting."

Rep. Reuven Carlyle values Crosscut's "prolific, original, on-the-ground reporting." Credit: Carlyle campaign

Let’s face it: We are missing the “opportunity of this crisis” to embrace a fundamental new approach to how government works. We are self-censuring ourselves before we’re even out the door with new ideas, new approaches, and new policies.

We need to gain the courageous honesty to embrace this crisis, to transform how our state government operates, and to promote meaningful reform. We need to tackle old problems with new energy and spirit. We need to redefine our very definition of "leadership" so we’re not looking for someone to push from the top but to unleash from the bottom. We need bold systems-thinking about structural challenges because our old model of tinkering with the symptoms is no longer working.

As a backbench member of the Legislature, I appreciate that things take time. I appreciate that my job is to listen and learn, and to recognize the complexity of government is not easy. Yet there is also something powerful afoot with the President's message that we’re all community organizers now. As we citizens and politicians design a comprehensive strategy for legislation in 2010 and beyond, we need to recognize that people are inspired by a belief that Northwesterners can be so much more than what we’ve settled for.

We are an entrepreneurial, creative, and engaged region. Yet too often our public policies do not reflect these core values. As I see it, we face four fundamental issues in our state today: health care, education, taxes, and governmental reform. Let me take them in order.

Health care: We are essentially punting to the Obama administration to fix the insurance side of the problem, yet that is a fraction of the larger systems issue. We need a new approach toward a prevention-oriented system of care. We could do amazing things if we linked city, county, and state employees together and demanded a new approach to prevention and wellness, one that would reduce the ruthless increase in costs to taxpayers.

Here's an example. If you smoke as a public employee, we’ll give you 12 months and free access to programs to quit. At the end of that time, if you still smoke, your deductible increases sharply and dramatically. Same with obesity and other problems. This is a way to hold people accountable for the long term costs of their behavior. But are we doing it? King County’s lauded program is good but not enough; cities and other counties and the state are nowhere near where they need to be for us to become the healthiest state in the nation by any metric.

Health care costs are devouring tax dollars, yet we leave each city, county, state, and other government agency to fend for itself in insuring its workforce. We can't just continue to feed the beast of the current health-care complex and expect healthier kids, families, and communities to result.

Education: We made modest, thoughtful, and genuine steps forward with the Education Reform Act, HB 2261. Now we have to tackle funding and how to get better results for the tens of billions we are spending. Washington is losing out on federal funds in this area because we don’t have quality data, measurable systems, charter schools, and other reforms that the Obama administration feels are vital to systemic improvement.

Here are some indicators of how serious our education problem has become. Seattle's high school graduation rate is 62 percent. Nearly one quarter of the adults of our state don't have a high school diploma. Yet despite these problems, Seattle's School District has granted tenure to school principals, raising the question of how can you lead a school and empower better teachers when you yourself aren't held to high standards?

Some suggestions for reform: Bring back shop class by forming new partnerships with community and technical colleges. Unleash the University of Washington and other colleges by giving them control over their own budgets instead of forcing them to play politics to keep legislators happy. Mostly, let's admit that our education focus has been on inputs (more money) and process (fewer hard decisions), rather than on outcomes and results.


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Comments:

Posted Mon, Jul 6, 7:29 a.m. Inappropriate


Reuven is one of the most intriguing people to come on to the political stage in several years, and I love this post. Yes, admittedly, Reuv is a friend of mine, in the way we become friends with colleagues who share certain attributes, beliefs. He is truly a joy to work with, to hang out with, to debate with. And he is irrepressibly "out there", not waiting for sanction or seniority.

Reuv - and many of his freshman colleagues - have shown a courage in talking about and pursuing reform that gives me hope for the state's future. Many will read this column and begin to argue with it (frankly, Reuv, the education ideas are pretty weak, IMHO; the tech ideas are 150% right on, as you and I have discussed). But over all, this post shows that gutsiness, that out-there thinking that will be required, if we are ever to truly change government and regain the public's trust.

Wonder if we could get a majority?

//Rep. Deb Eddy

Deb Eddy

Posted Mon, Jul 6, 7:54 a.m. Inappropriate

Reuven--You're right when you talk about the economic inefficiencies of so many school districts, but small is better when it comes to holding the system accountable. Parents need to be in touch with the decisions being made about their kids education. That doesn't happen in big districts. So it's not as simple as consolidation.

Mikos

Posted Mon, Jul 6, 8:43 a.m. Inappropriate

Reuven has brought some needed energy to the legislature and to our local politics. Inertia and complacency have ruled both for some time now.

Some of his analyses seem correct, others not thought through. The task now, as he points out, is to move beyond rhetoric and general objectives toward specific policy proposals---and to then mobilize support for those most promising.

Go Reuven!

Posted Mon, Jul 6, 9:14 a.m. Inappropriate

The challenge is not new, innovative ideas about how to reform taxes, education, health care, etc. With all due respect to Reuven, who I don't know, and others, there has never been a shortage of ideas. Some good and some not so good.

The challenge is finding ways to make change happen, to overcome the inertia and natural resistance to chnage. How do you build momentum toward the tipping point of big change? How do you convince enough of the public or enough elected officials to take the risk of big change?

This is the real and the greater challenge.

SteveC

SteveC

Posted Mon, Jul 6, 10:03 a.m. Inappropriate

It's great to see this piece from Reuven Carlyle in Crosscut. While I'm in agreement with Deb Eddy on the weakness of his education argument, I find much to admire in the fresh perspective articulated here. I'm glad I voted for Carlyle, and I hope he and the other freshmen legislators will succeed.

Posted Mon, Jul 6, 10:18 a.m. Inappropriate

Steve: Excellent question. FIRST AND FOREMOST, in any group (especially policy bodies, like city council, house of representatives), you must have a persistent voice for change so as to create the necessary window for discussion and the opportunity to build the "political will" (i.e., majority) for action.

EXAMPLE: In a group of seven city councilmembers, two voices speaking up for a reform agenda will attract the third. Garnering that all-important fourth vote may require some compromise ... but stuff happens. A single voice can be insistent and radical, but if unjoined by another or three, it will not change the way that city works.

For a larger group, like the legislature, change is usually precipitated through a well-strategized executive agenda (through the Gov's office) or through a party-defined turnover in the majority. Both come with some built-in political capital, due to winning an election.

Some would argue that we in Washington are stuck in our political correctness, doing just enough to sustain business and the environment ... with a lot of time spent in self-congratulation. (Case in point: We will open a light rail line in a week or so that is about a third of what we need right now, at a highly inflated cost, because we continue to frolic in the roads-versus-transit debate, avoiding any need for an assessment of systemic effectiveness. Lots of folks will claim victory, that they "made it happen" ... without facing up to just how little they delivered.)

Believe it or not, there are more than a few legislators with Reuv's energy and irrepressible passion for change. His voice adds to ours, helping us sound less like squeaky-wheel-loose-cannons and more like the change agents we know we need. And hopefully, we'll attract more ...

/deb eddy

Deb Eddy

Posted Mon, Jul 6, 10:53 a.m. Inappropriate

Reuven,
I am among those who are very happy to read your analysis, happy to see you sticking your neck out here. Your self-title "backbencher" indictes that perhaps you felt powerless in the Democratic caucus. Take time to get closer to Rep. Sharon Nelson who fought fearlessly against the Maury Island gravel pit in her first session, and then against all odds passed curbs on payday lending in her second session.

Your ideas on revamping the State's technology plans are excellent. What can you do to get a hearing going before the next session? Does this fall under Ways and Means and its new House chair Kelli Linville have jurisdiction? What about Ross Hunter as an ally?

Your ideas on tax restructure are weakest be cause you don't name any increased sources of income. We can't just lower all the taxes. Most progressives believe the B&O; tax is unjust because it taxes income, not profits, thus discouraging new and small businesses. Let's start there, where there is momentum. Ah, but what to replace it with? You could gain a lot of credit by supporting Sen. Lisa Brown's high-income tax. Income over $250,000 affects only high-level executives and business owners--please weigh in! Your opinion as a self-made millionnaire means a lot.

We could pay for everything we need if we got rid of all the tax breaks. Boeing got $3 billion for just keeping 1,200 jobs here. How much is too much to pay for one job? If they build the second 787 line in S. Carolina, do we rescind the tax break? Is there accountability for these tax breaks? We are so strict about outcomes for spending, why don't we treat tax breaks the same way? We should at least be having that conversation. Sunsetting can have accountability built into renewal. Please work with Rep. Bob Hasegawa on rescinding or sunsetting these 615 tax breaks. He needs and deserves support.

We could do a lot more for small businesses. I look at all the empty streetfront retail space that we require for multi-family buildings, and I wonder why we don't subsidize rent for start-ups and local business for five years as a way to help the multi-family housing developers get over this bad economy as well. Could there be a fund similar to the Washington State Housing Trust Fund that paid rent directly to these developers?

You were elected on an education agenda, so we need to hear in depth about how to fund the needed reforms. This is not a small number. David Spring says we should tax intangibles, as we did before 1997, when our income problems started. This would pay for education reform. Tax reform and education reform are inextricably intertwined.

You will become the legislator we want to you be when you choose just one or two of these issues and become the House expert. Finding ways to help small businesses through tax reform and moving us into new computer platforms are both good ways to start.

Sarajane Siegfriedt
King County Democrats Legislative Action Committee Co-chair

Posted Mon, Jul 6, 12:30 p.m. Inappropriate

The problem with Mr. Carlyle's tax proposal is that unless you eliminate the sales and/or property taxes, once an income tax is established, all the taxes will just start ratcheting back up again. The only other option is to constitutionally cap the taxes, which I just don't see our free-spending officials in Olympia doing either. Look how many pieces of legislation have been classified as "emergencies" lately. There is simply no fiscal discipline in this state. To establish a new tax would be very dangerous unless there is a hard and fast limit placed simultaneously on the others; a limit that only a supermajority vote of the people can raise.

dbreneman

Posted Mon, Jul 6, 2:39 p.m. Inappropriate

Sarajane: Per your suggestion on the tech ideas: We began working in this direction, toward reform, back in '07 (my first session). Linville/Ericks championed reform, made it subject to a budget proviso. Hunter was fully on board, as were many others; we got it through both Houses!! We left town and the Gov vetoed -- for her own (good?) reasons? My point is, I appreciate the purity of your post/suggestions, but politics at the state level is REALLY HARD, requires lots of players ... and cooperation.

BTW: Part of the problem w/rescinding the tax breaks is that they are subject to a initiative that would require a 2/3 vote for repeal, as Bob H. knows. Getting 2/3 of a group of 98 people to agree that, say, the Boeing tax breaks are useless ... well, that could be a tough one. And I'm not sure that becoming the House "expert" will turn Reuv into a Super-legislator. There is so much more of TEAMWORK to what's needed to make things happen in Olympia. Add on the difficulties of a hackneyed, multi-layer process PLUS the weight of seniority ... and you've got an albatross around the neck of anyone declaring themselves the House expert. :-) /deb eddy

Deb Eddy

Posted Mon, Jul 6, 2:48 p.m. Inappropriate

dbreneman,
you have put your finger on why so many citizens oppose an income tax in practice, but wish for one in theory. If Carlyle is serious he will work on removing that bind.

afreeman

Posted Mon, Jul 6, 8:43 p.m. Inappropriate

Rhetorically stirring. It obviously appeals to Rep. Carlyle’s (fawning) True Believers, to whom this back-bencher arrives with messianic promise, and who are quick to post the internet equivalent of a Standing O.

But I kept waiting for the tag line: “My name is Reuven Carlyle, and I approved this message.”

Remember Newt Gingrich?

He arrived in The Other Washington with much chest-thumping, declaring that he and colleagues would not cease from mental fight, nor let their swords sleep in their hands, ‘til they had built Jerusalem in (America's) green and pleasant land.

That proved to be hubris and vain posturing, and all that Mr. Gingrich is reinventing now is himself—having failed to achieve more than the smallest fraction of his bold platform.

Stirring appeals are one thing, but the Devil is still solidly in the details--and I don't see much in this editorial that would be ready to drop in the hopper as a serious piece of legislation. This observation will, no doubt, brand me as uncourageous and dishonest (to employ Mr. Carlyle's language).

With respect to the Big Four that he addresses:

(1) Health reform. There is nothing here that would betray an understanding on Rep. Carlyle’s part of the subtleties of this complex area. His lack of knowledge that any county, municipality, or political subdivision can now participate in the state’s health insurance program (PEBB) at will is worrisome. It’s more worrisome that he favors a social policy under which selective underwriting would not only be allowed, but encouraged, based on what some call “lifestyle choices,” but others see as addictions and genetic predispositions. It’s still not a good idea to blame, and burden, the victim.

(2) Education. Mr. Carlyle takes some mighty swings at our most popular punching bag, public education—holding educators responsible for a broad cultural failure that can never be remedied with a narrow solution. The (under)funding he mentions is due to chronic legislative neglect, increasing demands of our public schools, and flight from the system on the part of those who can afford to do so. Public flogging of our principals and teachers is unlikely to produce better outcomes.

(3) Tax Reform. Unqualified praise for Mr. Carlyle’s suggestions in this regard. The thing is, we WA folk simply don’t wish to think rational thoughts about how we pay for government services—and we enjoy tossing forward-thinking legislators from high places, ignoring thoughtful studies (even when associated with the Gates name), and passing Tim Eyman initiatives. Mr. Carlyle and his colleagues will need plenty of that courage he mentions, and will probably need a form of mass hypnosis, to nudge us very far at all toward a more diversified base for public finance!

(4) Government Reform. Mr. Carlyle poses a number of excellent “Why…? And Why not…?” questions here, bringing to mind Bobby Kennedy’s hoary quote (of G.B. Shaw): “Some men see things as they are, and ask ‘Why’? Others dream things that never were, and ask ‘Why not’?” The basic answer is that human nature, ingrained mistrust of the new, and the comfort of the status quo all conspire against courage, honesty, and venturesome change. Every unsolved problem benefits a constituency. It’s one thing to envision the gains available to the entrepreneur and the creative--but in the political realm, moving toward those gains always rests on understanding the timid, reluctant, voter, and finding ways of getting him/her to move off dead center.

It’s in this last arena that I encourage Mr. Carlyle to concentrate his efforts: understanding the individual and collective psyche of the legislature and the electorate, and being better prepared to “seize the opportunity of crisis.”

Seneca

Posted Mon, Jul 6, 9:48 p.m. Inappropriate

I think his bill sponsorship is pretty well in line with the article that he has written here.
http://www1.leg.wa.gov/House/Carlyle/SponsoredBills.htm

I did find some of the examples simplistic, but not unworthy of discussion or investigation. That is part of the problem when writing something like this, it has to have enough information to be interesting but not so much that it is dull.
Was a little unhappy with the cut taxes mantra without the pay-as-you-go spending cuts. Shifting the taxes from business owners to their employees is just that.

Mr Baker

Posted Tue, Jul 7, 10:38 a.m. Inappropriate

Great, another fresh face targeted and profiled by David Brewster et al for corruption.

FWIW, we are **not** an "entrepreneurial, creative, and engaged region", least when it comes to the powers that control our bureaucracy - and those that contract with it.

They, are, in fact an entrenched bunch of self-righteous corporate welfare tit sucking parasites whose primary endeavor is the consumption of alcohol and sitting around talking about how the average joe is such a bunch of trash....

Talking about these problem ain't gonna do it - it is going to take some serious political and economic butt kicking to get this place back in shape.

Posted Wed, Jul 8, 5:23 p.m. Inappropriate

None of this will change in this state, let alone this country, until you change your voting system to one of proportional representation, as you have in Europe and New Zealand and other countries.... and hell will freeze over before the vested interests here will give up power to enable that to happen...

In the meantime, Reuven says nothing new....sit on the sidelines and complain as you watch the dance between the two political parties...

sahila

Posted Thu, Jul 9, 10:46 p.m. Inappropriate

Would all of you anonymous posters like to own up to your real identities? If this blogging/posting/responding thing is going to amount to anything, then we need more folks willing to 'fess up to who they really are.

Deb Eddy

Posted Sat, Jul 11, 6:39 p.m. Inappropriate

Rep. Carlyle does here what all our legislators should be doing: making us think about what comes next. The economy that comes out of this deep recession will look very different than the economy of the 1990s. All the changes Reuven explores will not happen all at once. They shouldn't happen all at once. But he's right to make us come to grips with the magnitude of the change: all these changes are ahead of us. It's not up to legislators to come up with all the solutions. It's up to the people to recognize the ball is definitely in the people's court. So what do we do now? I've been arguing that we're in the midst of the first real recession of the fully globalized economy. This means that economic recovery will be the first of the next phase of globalization. What does that mean?:
- It means we have to figure out how to create value in the new economy.
- It means we have to figure out how to sell that value to others.

So here's my view about value.

Value is not about being able to buy cheap products made by American companies manufacturing goods with cheap overseas labor, that then get shipped to American ports so that we can count how many more containers of cheap goods we bring here compared with the ports in Southern California. Value is not having 3 cars, four vacations a year, five nights out for dinner, piano and soccer lessons for our kids 5 nights a week, and credit card debt that equals half a year's salary.

So what is value? It is having a job that makes it possible to build a sense of self-respect. It is having a job that makes a person believe they can one day own a home, take care of a family, send kids to school, afford health care to keep their families healthy, and live with dignity in retirement.

Before we can even imagine the reforms Rep. Carlyle envisions, we need people to have jobs and earn an income to feed their families. Before we can reform the economy and redefine what we value, we need our friends and neighbors to be working productively and believing they will be part of whatever economic recovery looks like.

The next economy is going to affect all of us, no matter what county we live in. We are going to need to create - CREATE - at least 500,000 jobs in our state before we can claim victory over the recession. And depending on the average annual wages associated with each job, we'll either have a robust recovery - or a system where people hold two jobs to just get by.

Today the vast majority of our employable adults are employed by small businesses (up to 100 employees, typically), with the percentage varying depending on the study. What does it take to help small businesses get established? How do they seize opportunity in the midst of crisis? How does local government send the message that there is a future out there worth building a business for?

America's dream is one of equal opportunity with equal protection under the law to pursue life, liberty, and happiness. In every generation, the vast majority of people have measured their access to these dreams by the work they do and the government that protects their rights to live their lives in peace.

Let's help people get back to work. Then it will be time for us to help government reshape the way it works for us. Government of the people, by the people, and for the people - there are many paths to this vision. We just have to be willing to do the work.

Posted Tue, Jul 14, 12:32 a.m. Inappropriate

Obesity? Really? Has anyone else tried to raise rates after 12 months of obese persons failing to return to fit weight levels? This will never happen. The only issue you would possibly succeed with is smoking. Little savings.

And the dropout rate - that includes kids who move out of the district. If we really had 38% of our kids failing to complete high school, we would be in an infinitely more dire situation. But like many "shocking" statistics, that one exists only the minds of those who would force alarmist reactions to issues that require systematic study and measured resolutions.

Yo

Posted Tue, Jul 14, 12:39 a.m. Inappropriate

And Rep. Eddy:

Posts on here are registered, but anonymous - even less anonymous than our votes, since you can track all of a given poster's opinions. That seems pretty fair. When commenting becomes an elected, even paid, position, I'll gladly give my full identity.

Yo

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