05/18/2010 11:49 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

What Progressives Can Learn from the Tea Party

I am a Progressive, and yet even I know that we're going to need a change in the way we run our government, both federal and state, or places like California and Arizona will be Greece.

In America, no state wants to be Greece. In Arizona, we are about to vote on a 1% sales tax, which is already unpopular, but necessary to keep the jobs of teachers and first responders. We are also about to fight health care reform, and it has been suggested that we drop out of Medicaid in 2014. The organizations fighting the sales tax will probably lose, because we are in dire need of both short term and long term fixes for our budget deficit. But is it the right thing to do?

California is in the same position. What amuses me is that Arizona is "conservative" and California is "liberal" in the eye of the beholders. In other words, as a state you're short funds right now whether you were a tax-and-spend state or a not-another-nickel-for-children state. Only Montana seems to be okay. And that's probably because it has such a small population.

It's time to choose what we want government to do. Both education and health care should be massively revamped, as they, prisons, and unfunded federal mandates are the bulk of every state's budget. Good luck getting health care or education done, because of all the vested interests, including rioting students and sick seniors. But here are some suggestions, some gleaned from the Tea Party:

1) Invite outside experts to come in and evaluate some state programs to see if they are indeed useful. Many state programs, such as Arizona's Drug and Violence Prevent program, don't do much good and although they are small, they are part of our death by a thousand cuts. Others might be poorly managed, especially education and health care.

2) Automate more processes in state government. Arizona has done a better job of this than many other states, with its Service Arizona Portal for the Motor Vehicle Division. Almost all information processes can be shifted online, where customers can serve themselves for routine needs.

3) Kill the state agencies that have already been so wounded that they can't do what they were set up to do: the Arts Commission, the Historical Association, and the Tourism department. Since tourism is a business, let's just privatize it. I laughed when Gov. Brewer, after signing S.B. 1070, convened a tourism task force and gave it scarce money to turn around Arizona's image. I wanted her to buy school supplies instead.

4) Reform the tax structure. This has been proposed since I moved to Arizona. We have very low property taxes, because we're controlled by the real estate industry. The real estate lobby sees our entire state as one big piece of real estate. But we should bring our property taxes in line with those of other states.

5) If we are going down that road, let's take some of our empty real estate and convert it to education uses, rather than building more schools. Charter schools have proven that adaptive re-use of existing real estate works.

6) Legalize and tax medical marijuana. Voters actually passed an initiative to do this in 1996, and tacked on to it is the Parents Commission on Drug and Violence Control. The legalization of medical marijuana was never implemented, and yet the Parents Commission was formed and spends money every year. California is on the way to doing this. It would also help the border problem, since Americans use the drugs, and their illegality makes them cost more. We can't tax a Mexican drug cartel, but we can tax a medical marijuana dispensary.

7) Release non-violent drug offenders from Arizona prisons. According to the Goldwater Institute and the legislature, this would save $100 million annually.

8) Consolidate the school districts. This is another idea that has been circulating for forty years. We have massive overlap in our districts: there are hundreds of districts, some with only one or two schools. Each has a superintendent, and a board, and administrative costs. These little districts, and indeed our entire way of educating children, comes from the 19th century. We need some sort of "lean manufacturing" consultant to fix this for us.

9) Instead of dropping out of Medicaid, get on board and push for outcomes-based medicine and new methods of delivery (telemedicine) that will lower costs for all branches of government.

The problem with all these suggestions is that there's so much "funny math" on both sides, that it's hard to tell what might really be cost effective. Americans for Prosperity says Arizona spent over $9000 per student last year, but Arizona Tax Research Association says that number is $6000 and according to the education association, that puts us dead last among states. And never mind whether there's a real correlation between that and achievement. That's above my pay grade.