On October 1, 2013, the supposed “shutdown” (better referenced as a “slimdown”) began. While competing political factions bicker over who’s to blame, and while the public demands resolution, an interesting conversational point has surfaced. If non-essential government employees have been furloughed, it raises the question: why do non-essential government employees even exist?
Americans are well versed in the long history of rampant government waste. Lucrative bureaucrat salaries, revolving doors, inertia, and annually inflated budgets have become second nature. Despite all the attempts to introduce reform, government continues to hire more and more people.
In light of this, how can the “slimdown” be used to our advantage? There are a few areas of policy—where Utah has battled the federal government—that recent events suggest can and should be devolved to the state level.
National Parks and National Land Trusts
Rep. Ken Ivory and other state legislators have led the fight against the federal government to turn over its land to the state. Look east of Colorado and you’ll find that roughly 5% of land is controlled by federal agencies, but the percentage in lands from Colorado westward is over 50%. This constitutes unfair treatment of western states relative to eastern states and could form the basis of a class action lawsuit involving western states’ governors.
Utah’s amazing geology has given life to several heritage sites that are worth preserving. Drive from Cache or Box Elder down either southbound corridor and you’ll find a wealth of beautiful vistas, slot canyons, hoodoos, arches, lakes, river gorges, and more. The federal government has identified these areas as special and has moved on many occasions to protect their natural beauty, usually at the expense of recreation, development, resource exploitation, or habitation. While the attempt to preserve nature is noble and welcome, the federal government’s incompetence in this regard is repugnant.
A lack of funding for staffing, management, and protection have led to reduced access and lost revenue. There is a 30+ year history of public/private partnerships in managing public lands. If the overseeing agency were part of state government as opposed to federal, there is no reason the enforcement of covenants in a concessionaire’s license could not be identical and just as effective. No one is arguing for putting a Walmart in front of Zions, but allowing private companies to do the work of high cost federal employees makes good sense. Most of the inefficiency in federal land management comes from overpaid employees. While many of these employees can be considered essential to the maintenance of a park, paying someone $40,000 or more per year—along with a federal pension, insurance, and sometimes even housing—to clean bathrooms and man a pay station at a campground is terribly inefficient. The market can do far better, while preserving important historical sites.
A group of 16 rafters prepaid for a 21 day float trip down the Colorado River. The only Grand Canyon entry point had been sealed off by gun toting guards behind barricades and the would-be rafters were turned away. Efforts have even been made to close down Florida’s bays, public access points for fishing in the ocean. These and many other actions like them in relation to supposed “public lands” highlight an important opportunity for states to insist on taking control lands currently held by the federal government, which they are unwilling or unable to properly manage.
At one point in its history, the Republican Party’s platform prioritized the dismantling of the Department of Education. Times have changed, as most so-called conservatives eagerly support federal education mandates, such as No Child Left Behind and other programs like it.
However, as a result of the “slimdown,” many programs, such as Head Start, were rendered unavailable. It’s taken private donations to ensure continued operation. While these are social welfare programs and unconstitutional mandates which conservatives shouldn’t support anyway, the fact that their operations have been threatened should be ample motivation for people across party lines to look for other ways of administering programs for the most vulnerable members of society. The most readily available substitute for federal oversight is state oversight. While this is not ideal, in a state that touts the supernal primacy of families as the basic unit of society, it is incrementally better and strategically sound. Those who support limited government and object to the federal government’s usurpation of powers it was not constitutionally delegated should use this opportunity to fight for local control to have a better voice in the education of their children.
Recall that the “slimdown” started over attempts to defund the “Affordable” Care Act. Recently launched, the program has been a disaster from day one with technical glitches galore. It cannot succeed without widespread adoption from healthy young Americans. It has already increased insurance premiums.
There has never been a better time for the people of Utah to step forward and prove that they can do healthcare better than the big government approach proposed by Congress and the Obama administration. Regardless of which direction negotiations in Congress go, Utahns should be resolute in their advocacy and development of homegrown, market-based healthcare solutions. State solutions are not ideal and violate the market.
Pointing to the ineptness of a government approach to health care, Utahns should take ownership, stewardship, and responsibility for the care of our own through private charitable organizations and compassionate professional associations.
While many non-essential government workers have been furloughed, and though many are angry at the effects of Washington Monument Syndrome currently playing out, there is a learning opportunity to be had from the “slimdown.” This controversy stands as another example of how Utah should, with the Tenth Amendment as its leverage point, continue its fight to reclaim power and programs not constitutionally authorized. Decentralizing these and other policy areas will increase efficiency, reduce cost, and spur innovation.