Building a 21st Century Arizona
I.    Introduction
Governor Robert McDonnell of Virginia in the Republican response to President Obama’s 2010 State of the Union address stated: “Government should have this clear goal: Where opportunity is absent, we must create it. Where opportunity is limited, we must expand it. Where opportunity is unequal, we must make it open to everyone.” However as Arizona approaches the start of its second century as a state, the achievement of this laudable dream seems further and further away. The State budget is billions of dollars in the red, jobs are being lost, vital services cut, businesses are closing and schools are under funded. To successfully turn the economy around, all parties recognize that every tool at the State’s disposal must be employed.
II.    A New Vision – Invest in Arizona’s People First
Filling a multi billion dollar budget deficit and creating opportunity may seem opposite and opposing actions. The current direction of the budget could be seen an exercise in this reality. Though laudable in its desire for balance, it seeks to cut funds from education, eliminate KidsCare health coverage for low-income children, ask the voters to change eligibility for the state’s Medicaid program to significantly lower the number of individuals covered and eliminate the Department of Juvenile Corrections thus transferring those youth in detention to their home counties. However, the budget is more than a plan for allocating scarce resources to needed services and eliminating those deemed of less value. It is also the blueprint that leadership can use to create the sustainable opportunity and prosperity all Arizonans desire.
An alternative path to guide and inform the budgetary process can found in the frugal habits of our ancestors who lived through the last great monetary disaster in the 1930s. Their values were simple:
Make the most of what you have
Waste not want not
Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you
Cleanliness is next to Godliness
Always seek to make things better
Always seek to do no harm etc.
Seeking the world through these values they knew how to save, invest; turn a time into a dollar, patch pants, plant gardens and use the wastewater from the dishes to irrigate. They saw everything around them as an asset to be invested in and in doing so, reap significant direct and indirect returns. In their actions they were courageous and ingenious. Today we would call them sustainable, even green. We would also call them builders for we continue to benefit from the great institutions they created. Following their example today if encouraged by leadership from the State government, we have the opportunity to begin to rebuild Arizona’s economy, as did our ancestors, through investing in its most important natural resources, its people. Without them as the foundation, nothing else can be accomplished.
III     Recommendation: Through a Whole system lens, reprioritize spending seeing people as assets.
Whole Systems Thinking is an approach to problem solving that views "problems" as parts of an overall system. Rather than reacting to present outcomes or events and potentially contributing to further development of undesired issues, one would look at the entire system to minimize problems while maximizing direct and indirect benefits of current and future decisions. Through a whole system lens, seeing people as assets to be invested in protected and enhanced automatically changes spending priorities and encourages innovation. This type of innovative policy thinking is needed today where environmentally, socially and economically synergistic solutions are harnessed to create desirable products and services that Arizonans can not only afford, but also manufacture here.
A 21st Century Arizona cannot be accomplished without a healthy educated, empowered and stable work force. For this to be done, the budget needs to see poor children not as costs to be shifted to other agencies but instead as part of the workforce and leadership of the future. It must see the dynamic diversity of its people as a source of strength and wisdom, not division and fear. It must value those at the margins as much as those at the middle. It must celebrate and enhance the value of merit, opportunity, liberty and hard work, but not expect people with no boots to pull them selves up by their bootstraps. It must value a park as much as factory and a corn farm as much as a solar farm. It must not see education small & minority owned businesses as drags on the State but as the source of innovation, jobs and prosperity for today and tomorrow. It must recognize the greater value of rehabilitation over incarceration in particular for youth. It must harness the power of sustainability to enhance and utilize Arizona’s clean air, clean water, and vast natural and urban resources in ways that not only do no harm but in ways that will environmentally, socially and economically benefit for generations to come. It must value conservation over consumption. Finally it must value enhancing what the state has over what the state wants. In short, the budget must not simply cut costs it must invest in the enhancement of Arizona and the empowerment of its people.
IV     Conclusion
In today’s political climate the vision set forth here is difficult but necessary. It requires leadership and the ability to put aside partisanship and social experimentation and seek the best ideas from all parties to empower the individual to create a sustainable prosperity. If this is done now with the reprioritized budget as the first step, then Arizona will be able to step proudly into its second century, as not a follower but a leader amongst its peers.
Green Forward Blog
Wednesday, February 3, 2010