The Republicans in the Oregon Legislature believe they've found a problem: Businesses are burdened with too many state regulations, and that's holding back economic growth and stifling job creation. "There is always an easy solution to every human problem - neat, plausible and wrong." - H.L. Mencken
They also believe they've found an easy, neat and plausible solution: Prohibit any new state regulations for the next two years. Like so many easy, neat and plausible solutions to complex and difficult problems, this one is wrong.
"In this tough economic environment, every additional permit, report and rule limits a business's flexibility and competitiveness," State Senate Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli (R-John Day) said. To ease the supposedly crippling burden on businesses, he and his fellow Republicans want to put a temporary halt to all new rule-making by state agencies.
Among other things, the moratorium would prevent the Oregon Safety and Health Division from increasing penalties for serious violations and stop the state Department of Environmental Quality from issuing new water safety standards.
The Republicans' moratorium idea is in line with modern conservatism's core doctrine that government = bad, business = good. Unfortunately, though, reality has many more subtle shades than the conservative black-and-white version of it.
Not all regulations are bad. For example, we don't think many Oregonians - even Republicans - would want to repeal the rules that forbid manufacturing plants to spew lead and arsenic into the water supply. And some regulations - for instance, those that control the rates power utilities can charge - actually benefit many businesses.
There's little concrete evidence that excessive state regulation is crippling Oregon's economy either. Many states with a heavier regulatory burden are doing better than we are; many with a lighter one are doing worse. The Oregon economy currently sucks because the real estate bubble that formed the shaky foundation of our brief prosperity collapsed, not because state agencies suddenly threw a whole bunch of new rules at businesses.
To the extent that regulation is a problem, the problem isn't regulation per se - it's bad regulations, dumb regulations and unnecessary regulations. Where bad, dumb and unnecessary regulations exist, they should be identified and repealed. Freshman State Rep. Jason Conger (R-Bend) has the right idea; he wants to require state agencies to analyze the rules they issue in terms of their cumulative impact on businesses.
Rather than using a scalpel to remove bad regulations, though, Conger's Republican colleagues want to whack away with a meat cleaver, amputating potentially good regulations along with the bad ones. It's an approach that, at best, offers a slogan - "Less Government!" - instead of a serious solution, and at worst would block state agencies from doing their necessary and legitimate jobs (which we suspect is the real agenda of some of those pushing it).
Lawyers have a saying that tough cases make bad law. Likewise, the desperation felt in tough economic times often gives rise to bad laws, and the moratorium idea is one of them. The legislature and Gov. John Kitzhaber should give it THE BOOT, as we're doing now.