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Rep. Reuven Carlyle: How I'll vote on the state budget

The 36th-District Democrat says he has three binding principles: hope, change, idealism. And some more revenue would help.
State Rep. Reuven Carlyle

State Rep. Reuven Carlyle

Editor's note: State Rep. Reuven Carlyle, a Seattle Democrat, has been a prolific blogger at his website, reuvencarlyle36.com, since his election in 2008. This commentary appeared there on Sunday.

I’m not embarrassed to speak openly of my deep embrace of hope, the essence of a more just society, the idealism of change. We face a time of tremendous change in our nation as families struggle and our world looks differently than in years past. As President Obama fights for bold new approaches to health care, technology, education and more, we face our own systems challenges here at home.

Last week legislators gathered in Olympia for two days of committee meetings. We rolled up our sleeves and looked in depth at policies and programs necessary to deal with a projected $2.6 billion deficit in 2010. The legislative session, slated for 60 days, begins Jan. 11.

There is a growing consensus, from Governor Gregoire to legislative leaders, that our state cannot function under the weight of another "all cuts" budget. With nearly 70 percent of the state budget constrained by constitutional and federal government boundaries (mostly public schools), we’re faced with a crisis in those areas where spending is formally considered discretionary. There has been a great deal of discussion of this issue within government, but on many levels large numbers of regular citizens haven’t seen firsthand the impacts of the budget cuts.

While some legislators have taken a position that they will vote for or against an "all cuts" budget, I have a slight twist on the criteria.

In addition to the spending and revenue levels, a third criteria for how I’ll vote on the budget is based on the central question of systems change. I have raised the question of systems change here, here, and here. And here.

To me systems change is about looking at our structures, systems, infrastructure of methodology, norms and behaviors and asking one core question: What would our systems look like if we designed them anew, today, from scratch? We are paralyzed by institutional infrastructure of "how it’s done." We find ourselves censoring our own thinking. We too often pull back from "what is possible" before we even get a new idea of the drawing board. I’m not suggesting everything is broken, and yet much of how we do business in state government does require a bold new approach. Systems change is not just about cuts and eliminating small programs.

The great moral, social, and economic movements of our time have been built upon the hope for change.

Systems change is about looking through the gift of eyes to see new possibilities. If community organizers across the world — women’s suffrage, Gandhi, FDR, JFK, Martin Luther King, Solidarity, Velvet Revolution, Berlin Wall, Mandela, and so many more — can bring about systems change, surely we can courageously tackle the relatively modest policy challenges we face in our state today.

We have the courage, the energy, the spirit, and the smarts to be so much more.

From both a policy and political perspective, do we have the courage during these difficult times as a Legislature to tackle structural issues that go to the core of business as usual? Will we embrace a reform agenda this year that looks at tough questions of how we fund, manage, and operate vital public services? Will we explore issues that are uncomfortable because they challenge us to reform how we operate government?

Or will we censor ourselves?

I am a progressive and I believe we must have the courageous honesty to stand up for those in need. We must recognize that government has a vital role to play in building quality of life, our economy, and our economic infrastructure. Government does not create jobs but it enables the public infrastructure of education to create an engaged workforce. The gracious work of most public servants is driven by an intense belief in the common good.


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Comments:

Posted Tue, Dec 8, 5:48 a.m. Inappropriate

You answered your own question, if it ever was a real question in that as a legislative body you will censor yourselves. The fact is you are not starting fresh and the constraints of of the public unions on reform are staggering. The efficient delivery of public services to those who are eligible to recieve them has been out the window decades ago. Mission creep, overlapping services,regulatory expansion, studies, head counts of those supposedly served have all been prioritized over core functions of government.

Cameron

Posted Tue, Dec 8, 8:18 a.m. Inappropriate

So… For your readers who have not been Pavlovianly conditioned to shut off their critical thinking skills when they hear the word “Environment”… And for those readers who are concerned about our state’s impending $3 Billion budget deficit…

In 2008 Federal, State and Local governments spent over $2 Billion on Puget Sound restoration activities. The private sector spent another $1.5 Billion, mainly on coerced mitigation. So, for one year, we spent $3.5 Billion on Puget Sound restoration.

Local governments (those closing parks, laying off police officers and neglecting infrastructure) spent over $1.1 Billion.

The State (which – likewise – is closing parks, under-funding education and threatening to turn more Maurice Clemmons’ out of prison) spent $443 Million.

And while some of this money found its way to on-the-ground activities that yielded actual results, much of it was sucked up by a growing bureaucracy that does little more than talk, study, meet and request more money.

BlueLight

Posted Tue, Dec 8, 10:24 a.m. Inappropriate

Gregoire is forcing consumers to pay a hidden expense and thus more sales tax, perhaps the press hasn't noticed but have you Rep Carlyle?

You want systems change? Consider your own decisions, and whether they actually were for the better or worse. For example:

By increasing the ethanol mandate to the fuel supply, consumers must now buy more gallons to travel the same distance. Ethanol has less energy than regular gasoline, and thus reduces the miles per gallon. That is an undisputable fact. That represents more sales tax income.

Second, ethanol accelerates the deterioration of open cycle gasoline engines (off road vehicles, power tools, chain saws, boat motors, generators, etc.). Don't believe me? Read the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute's report www.opei.org/ht/a/GetDocumentAction/i/1926. Or how about the Boat Owners Association of the US http://www.boatus.com/PressRoom/release.asp?id=457

And third, the WA State Department of Ecology personally told me last year that any more than 2% ethanol in the fuel supply meant Seattle would not meet EPA ozone attainment levels. Is that the systems change you sought? Do you know why the phrase "from wonder fuel to blunder fuel" is becoming more popular?

If you think Gregoire is smart, they you have to assume she knows that sales tax revenue will increase as consumers struggle to replace failed equipment. Of course, that reduces the savings of consumers, but why should she care, she'll be out of office in 3 years.

What about the costs of safety? Chainsaw kickback, stalled boat motors, emergency generators that won't start, inefficient operations, fuel that must be drained and dispose of, and prematurely damaged equipment that must be discarded into the landfill, are all part of the systems failure the Legislature has imposed. And now you want to increase the percentage?

Posted Tue, Dec 8, 11:33 a.m. Inappropriate

Reuven, you're absolutely right about systems change. Thanks for picking out a few prime contenders for reform (all called out in past years by D's as needing reform). Licensing, liquor, transportation funding have all been protected by the team you've signed up with, so best of luck inside your caucus. My advice would be picking ONE area for systems reform and trying to show you're capable of making change within the beast, as very very few legislators have ever proven their change skills are close to their rhetorical abilities. The Gov has appointed Jay Manning, one of the nicest people on earth but a fully made man in the Washington environmental community, who has no interest in reducing the size and scope or operating procedures of state government. He did nothing at DOE to create new ways of doing business and now he's running the "remake gov't" program? He's philosophically hostile to the idea. He, together with so many of your legislative colleagues, are paid apparatchiks of the status quo and various interest groups, and are aligned against "system reform".

The only way to succeed is to become world's expert in one of these areas so as to be able to overcome the pushback from the accumulated influence of interested players (special interests). You had a nice first session, and have a way with rhetoric. I agree with your declaration that reform is needed. Let us know what specific systems change is needed and then show us you can make it happen. Saying you won't vote for a budget without XYZ is fundamentally grandstanding, which does not make friends or influence people. Do the work.

Posted Tue, Dec 8, 5:47 p.m. Inappropriate

In the past I have been supportive of gasoline taxes, and so I am curious what the other options are that you propose.

I like your approach. I have come to the conclusion that in order to gain public support for more revenue, there has to be clear evidence that the state government is moving away from a "business as usual" attitude. I'd also be interested to see which R's you can work with on these issues, since the press eats up these "strange bedfellows" issues.

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