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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