Shrinking government down to size

Friday, January 24, 2014

Shrinking government down to size

STATEHOUSE - Be it in Washington, DC, or in Indianapolis, government programs, laws and regulations have a peculiar characteristic: once created they are exceedingly difficult to end. This is true whether the program is successful or not. Indeed, there are many federal programs, such as the National Endowment for the Arts, which received yearly appropriations long after the program’s authorization expired.

The seeming immortality of government law and regulation is due to several factors. First, for any program to become a program, it had to have majority support and someone in the legislature that was the program’s champion. In fact, very often and again at the federal level, the law or program itself may be named for the proponent, such as the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program. As such, for the law to be repealed and the program to end, it would require the very people that put it in place to change their minds and check their pride – not a common occurrence in legislative bodies.

Another reason why laws and programs live on is that they require a bureaucracy of regulators to administer them. In other words, most programs employ people, and those people care about their jobs. Accordingly, programs, especially the large ones, often have their own campaigns underway to preserve their future. While federal law (the “Hatch” Act) limits direct involvement by federal employees, it cannot reach their indirect activities. Stickers are printed and when a repeal effort gets momentum, folks show up ready to defend a program to the hilt.

Likewise, many programs have a large number of folks receiving benefits. These folks vote and politicians are keenly aware that ending a program can have election repercussions. They too make their presence known. All of these factors give rise to programs and laws which seem to live forever. Money is spent, indeed wasted, on regulations, rules and laws.

However, there is another reason why law and regulation lives on: it is far more glamorous to create law than to end it. This makes it all the more intriguing that amidst the ongoing debates on the marriage amendment, tax reform, etc., now taking place in Indianapolis, is one agenda item receiving little attention: the effort to repeal some laws that are no longer needed and or obsolete.

While not many of the items are of the type that garner much attention, it is nonetheless refreshing that the Indiana General Assembly is looking at actually ending something. This session, part of the House Republican agenda is to eliminate unnecessary, duplicative and burdensome regulations from our books.

This elimination process is working its way through the House Select Committee on Government Reduction, which I am proud to serve on. We are beginning to look at numerous laws and regulations that need to be repealed. Of those many items, three in particular come to mind.

The first is Indiana’s ‘Responsible Property Transfer Law’. Although this law was landmark legislation when it first passed, it has outlived its usefulness over time. It places a burden on private sector businesses that have since developed processes identical to the law’s requirements. It is time to repeal this now-unnecessary piece of code.

Similarly, we hope to do away with a law that requires the licensing of retail distress sales. The law was originally passed in 1965. However, since that time, other laws have been created that take care of issues related to the original law. With the original law now duplicated, we are best to eliminate it from the books.

Other duplicative measures have been found in Title 9 legislation as it relates to motor vehicles. With laws literally repeating themselves, it makes sense to repeal unnecessary clutter in our state laws. These types of duplications have contributed to the amount of Indiana’s laws nearly doubling since 1976.

The Select Committee on Government Reduction has taken great strides over the past few years to eliminate a significant number of government boards, commissions and appointments, but we still have more work to do.

Governor Daniels once said, “You’d be amazed how much government you never miss.” I completely agree. The number of our state laws has ballooned over the past 40 years, but we are working hard to reverse that trend. Sometimes good government can truly mean less government. We are fortunate to live in Indiana where that principle is being actively applied.

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State Rep. Tom Washburne serves as Vice Chairman of the Judiciary Committee. He also serves on the Financial Institutions Committee and the Select Committee on Government Reduction. Rep. Washburne represents the entirety of Gibson County and portions of Knox, Pike, Vanderburgh and Posey counties.