In his campaign for Governor last year, Charlie Baker promised us “a state government that gets out of the way.” And it seems that’s what we are getting.
Right after taking office, Governor Baker announced that one of the ways that state government would be getting out of the way was by not issuing any new regulations for some time. A “regulatory pause” by Executive branch agencies would “enable the administration to implement new guidance that regulations going forward communicate a clear, desired and effective goal.”
This pause was not a surprise. You might say that the notion that regulations are somehow adverse to good government started with Charlie Baker, the Secretary of Administration and Finance as well as the “heart and soul” of the Weld administration. Governor Weld issued the first executive order requiring agencies to pare down their regulations in 1996 (“WHEREAS, the inefficiencies and intrusions resulting from excessive government regulation constitute an unreasonable financial and personal burden on residents of the Commonwealth”). Since then, it has become fashionable in Massachusetts for our governors to begin their terms in office with a similar reproof of the idea that government ought to be in the business of regulating business, as Mitt Romney did in 2003 and Deval Patrick did in 2007.
The right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council offers model legislation for states to trim their inventory of regulations. And our state Legislature got in on the act in 2010, prohibiting agencies from putting out new regulations until they had thoroughly analyzed the potential effect on small business and requiring all agencies to review the need for all of their regulations every 12 years.
Which brings us to Sunday’s Globe article on Baker’s further pursuit of regulatory cutbacks in a new Executive Order. The moratorium on new regulations he announced in January is to continue until further notice. And there’s lots more. Baker has often likened government regulations to the junk that accumulates in your basement and which, in the interests of good housekeeping, you need to clean out every so often (as the Legislature had already concluded in mandating a top-to-bottom review every twelve years). The Executive branch agencies are going to be very busy making sure that every state regulation passes a lengthy series of tests before it may continue to be in effect. The most controversial of these tests is that no regulation may exceed what the federal government requires:
Baker, in a March 31 directive to all state agencies, is requiring a yearlong review of nearly all state regulations, with a mandate that none should exceed federal requirements, which in many cases are far less stringent than the state’s. He wants only regulations that do not “unduly and adversely affect Massachusetts citizens and customers of the Commonwealth.”
This apparently means that if the federal government is not ready to say that the chemical perchlorate, a persistent, inorganic anion found in industrial pollutants that interferes with thyroid function if ingested in significant quantity, is unsafe, then Massachusetts will stop saying it is unsafe and will rescind the current regulation (in place since the Romney administration) capping the amount of perchlorate that safe drinking water may contain. The people of Massachusetts, especially those living in the towns where perchlorate has been found in the drinking water will be on their own, happily unburdened by excessive regulation.