Rewriting the rules

Rewriting the rules

Gov. Bruce Rauner has ordered state bureaucrats to take on the bureaucracy.

Having struck out in his effort to persuade Democratic leaders in the General Assembly to help boost the state's economy, Gov. Rauner this week announced plans to act on his own authority to encourage job creation and growth.

On paper, it makes sense. But the devil is in the details, and only time will tell whether Rauner's initiative will pay the dividends he's seeking.

Rauner signed an executive order directing the newly created Illinois Competitiveness Council to review all agency rules and regulations, what he calls "an endless line of red tape that creates a barrier for small businesses and entrepreneurs."

"By cutting the red tape, we are creating an environment where they can succeed," he said.

That sounds good. But what, in reality, does it mean?

Rauner has directed that a representative from each of 11 state agencies (they include insurance, agriculture, revenue, public health and human services) serve on the council.

For starters, these representatives are to oversee a review of regulations within their own departments and report back by May 1 on those that need to be "revised or repealed." The council's work will then be forwarded to the legislature's Joint Committee on Administrative Rules and the Secretary of State for further examination.

Although this subject is easily perceived as stultifying, it's an exciting project that offers considerable promise. How many times have people complained about an unthinking bureaucracy and the rules it applies on those who have no choice but to approach government officials on bended knee?

The question, of course, is which rules make sense and which don't. It's not always easy to separate the wheat from the chaff.

The governor's executive order directs that state rules and regulations be "up to date," be written in "clear, concise" language, be "consistent" with other rules across agencies, not require "undue administrative delay," "not impose unnecessary burden on social service provides or recipients" and reflect "clear need and statutory authority."

When the public hears about rules and regulations, it probably thinks of restrictions on industry or private business. But government rules can affect social services agencies as well.

That's why one of the council's goals is "to make it easier for social service providers and recipients to provide or receive services."

Obviously, it's impossible to achieve that goal without regulators hearing from those they regulate. So council members have been instructed to "work closely with the citizens they serve in order to ensure that those affected by government regulation have their voices heard."

Anyone who knows anything about economics understands that government doesn't create private-sector jobs. What it does is create an environment in which the private economy may or may not flourish.

Most people understand that Illinois' business climate is poor. It discourages job creators from expanding or relocating here, and, as a consequence, too many people who need jobs can't find them. That's one of the reasons why a recent poll conducted by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale found that 47 percent of state residents wish that they lived elsewhere.

If Illinois ever is to cure itself of its economic maladies, it must address each individual part of the overall problem. Rules and regulations contribute to business climate. That's why it's important that this review be pursued in an aggressive way.

To demonstrate the seriousness of his commitment, Gov. Rauner brought lawyer and author Philip Howard to the news conference announcing this initiative. Since writing the book "The Death of Common Sense" in the early 1990s, Howard has been a consistent crusader for common sense regulation, which ought not be confused with little or no regulation.

In his original book and since then, Howard presented a persuasive case demonstrating how harmful and suffocating ill-conceived regulations can be to the common good. To the extent this is a problem in Illinois, it must be addressed.

In that context, it's good Gov. Rauner has taken this step. It'll be even better if it's successful.

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