The governor has signed an executive order aimed at cutting red tape by suspending rulemaking within state agencies, except for critical regulations and those mandated by statute.
The order also requires every state agency to conduct a review of existing and pending regulations and submit a report to the governor’s office by Nov. 15. Governor Pete Ricketts has appointed a four-member panel to help with the review.
In a news release announcing the move, Ricketts said any regulation determined to be more restrictive than required under state or federal law, or that creates an undue burden on Nebraskans, will be revised or repealed. Knowing that the governor has said he wants to run government like a business, such a move makes sense.
I was almost ready to give him kudos until I asked myself where the idea came from and what is the end game? Ricketts said Nebraska’s regulations have 7.5 million words, more than 100,000 of which are restrictive in nature. He said a person reading 300 words a minute for 40 hours a week would need 10 weeks to make it through all of them.
In the news release, Ricketts said that James Broughel, a research fellow for the state and local policy project at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, did an initial review. The Mercatus Center is a nonprofit think tank that was founded and funded by Koch Industries. George Mason University was founded in 1972 on a campus just outside Washington, D.C., and is now Virginia’s largest public research university.
The center has been described by The Washington Post as “anti-regulatory.” It has engaged in campaigns involving deregulation, especially environmental deregulation. During the George W. Bush administration's campaign to reduce government regulation, the Wall Street Journal reported, "14 of the 23 rules the White House chose for its hit list" to eliminate or modify were Mercatus entries.
Mercatus describes its mission "to generate knowledge and understanding of the institutions that affect the freedom to prosper, and to find sustainable solutions that overcome the barriers preventing individuals from living free, prosperous, and peaceful lives."
Ricketts said the idea of the Nebraska review is to "eliminate harmful and wasteful regulations that are a hindrance to the job creators, ag producers, startups and small businesses that are growing our state.” Red tape slows economic growth, the governor stressed. Over the past decade, Nebraska’s real gross domestic product has grown at an average of 2 percent a year. At that rate, it will take 35 years for the state’s economy to double in size, he said.
Koch Industries is an American Multinational corporation based in Wichita, Kansas. It has subsidiaries involved in manufacturing, trading, and investments, including a fertilizer factory near Beatrice and a nitrogen plant at Greenwood. Since 1960, the privately held company said, the value of Koch Industries has grown 4,200-fold, outpacing the Standard & Poor's index by nearly 30 times. Koch is now a key player in the fracking boom that's vaulting the United States past Saudi Arabia as the world's top oil producer. The firm employs about 60,000 people in the United States and another 40,000 in 59 other countries. In 2013-2015, Forbes listed it as the second largest privately held company (after Cargill) in the U.S.
The enormity of the Koch fortune is no mystery. Brothers Charles and David are each worth more than $40 billion. The electoral influence of the Koch brothers is similarly well chronicled. Their political network reportedly helped finance the Tea Party and plays a large role in the financial health of today’s Republican Party.
As I often say, none of this activity – as far as I can tell – is illegal. But one has to ask whose ox is getting gored, whose palm is being greased.
Ricketts’ all Republican advisory task force includes: state Sen. John Murante of Gretna, chairman of the Legislature’s Government, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee; Department of Banking and Finance Director Mark Quandahl (a former state senator); Department of Revenue Director Tony Fulton (also a former state senator) and Department of Health and Human Services Chief Operating Officer Bo Botelho.
How about a bi-partisan group to monitor the work of the appointed task force? Checks and balances. I think we’d likely all feel better about any outcome.
J.L. Schmidt is the statehouse correspondent of the Nebraska Press Association. He has been covering Nebraska government and politics since 1979. He has been a registered independent for 18 years.