Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Fiefdom Government

The state government is increasingly composed of a bunch of fiefdoms with their own funding mechanisms.  For all practical purposes, they are unaccountable to the people.   Think of the Highway Department and the State Game and Fish Commission.   Those are large examples that have direct access to your pockets through state tax revenues which they control.  More subtly, there are plenty of boards and commissions which have the power to levy professional license fees.   That's a cost of doing business which is indirectly passed onto the consumer.

Our system of government where these boards run things with quasi-autonomy work great as fund-raising mechanisms for politicians.  Board appointment is often given to big-contributing industry insiders that want to capture their regulating body.    This manifests not as government regulation but as insider regulation that has the backing of the government.   Think about Monsanto controlling all farm regulations and making it increasingly harder for their small competitors to stay in business.   Not only is this over-reliance on self-funded boards bad for competition, its bad for consumers and taxpayers.

Fiefdoms are not "separation of powers" in the sense that the three branches of government are.   They are rather a series of petty tyrannies.   The legislature ought to be the strongest branch of government, because it is closest to the people.  Instead, in Arkansas it has become the weakest.    One reason is the rise of fiefdom government.

The Highway Commission does its own thing with many millions of taxpayer dollars each year. The Game and Fish Commission has its own structure and seeks to escape legislative purview. University Presidents now routinely flout the expressed will of the legislature concerning financial aid for persons in this nation illegally. I find the principle of semi-unaccountable fiefdoms with a secured line of taxpayer funding disconcerting. I think it is a recipe for arrogance, corruption, and a loss of a service-oriented mindset.

I am all for separation of powers as a principle, and local control as a principle too. I guess what worries me here is that this is not a true separation of powers or local control issue. Each of these fiefdoms has full or near full power within their sphere of operations. They are not reliant on the legislative branch for their funding, and the executive branch can only indirectly influence them through board appointments. They each promulgate a lot of their own rules. They are their own legislative, executive and judicial branches all in one. It is not a separation of powers, but a division of government in a way that makes each fiefdom less accountable to the people.

IN the same way, each of these institutions has a statewide reach. It is not a true local-control situation, it is just that instead of one set of bosses in Little Rock there are many sets, each with their own little kingdoms that are centrally controlled.

John Brummett gave this interesting quote when noting that the highway commission took a baby step toward addressing a local pet peeve; "It is not like the Highway Commission to be even remotely flexible, so I should applaud the effort."    That's right.   It's not like them to be even remotely flexible, because flexibility flows from accountability.   The way the Highway Commission is set up they are not much accountable to anyone.  Basically it consists of five powerful people who are probably more accustomed to speaking than listening.  They are such big players that individual legislators from either party are usually afraid to cross them.    They are a self-funded kingdom unto themselves. 

You are not going to get flexibility, accountability, and responsiveness from an organization set up like the highway commission.    They are structured as an oligarchy, autocracy is built into the design.  Sure, they will feign attentiveness to the public immediately before a tax increase is on the ballot, but in the long term our experience with them will conform to the well-known scientific principle of "reversion to the mean."   The mean, or average, setting of the highway commission is that the personal agendas of the highway commissioners will take precedence over local needs on the ground.

If you have any doubt that I am right, consider that the five commissioners are picked to represent districts whose lines were drawn based on Arkansas' population distribution in 1936!   Think of what Northwest Arkansas looked like back then verses now.   Think about how Little Rock has grown in those decades.  Obviously, population has shifted from South Arkansas and the Delta to central and northwest Arkansas during that stretch of time.   The have not even been responsive and flexible enough to assign representation by current population patterns.

That alone makes it obvious that it would be dumb for anyone in the second or third congressional district to vote to give the highway commission any more money.     You would be voting against your own interests.   You would be throwing away all your leverage to force them to update their representation to the modern day from a time in which not only was music stored on plastic records, but those records spun at 78 RPM.


Blogger Mark Moore (Moderator) said...

Fiefdom government stands as an obstacle to people getting their state government back, even if they elect who they want...

1:53 PM, August 14, 2012  
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