The Big Lie
On January 31, 2019, Brad Little held a press conference to sign Executive Order 2019-02 the ‘RED TAPE REDUCTION ACT’. This act was intended to require state agencies to issue administrative rules to identify at least two existing rules to be repealed or significantly simplify every one rule they propose. His second Executive Order 2019-01 was the “Licensing Freedom Act of 2019” which put in place sunrise and sunset processes for future occupational licensing laws. Little pointed out that Idaho’s administrative code included 736 chapters and 8,278 pages of regulations and at least 72,000 total restrictions. He said the three most regulated areas in Idaho are economic development with 3,018 pages of regulations, natural resources with 1,815 pages of regulations, and health and human services with 1,666 pages of regulations.
He said, “Excessive regulation at all levels of government can impose high costs on businesses, inhibit job growth, and impede private sector investment. Onerous and outdated regulations in state government present barriers to independence and prosperity for Idahoans. The two executive orders I signed today help simplify Idaho state government and make it more accountable to citizens.”
On 12/4/2019, Governor Brad Little announced that the state cut more than 1,800 pages of regulations in 2019, bringing its total regulatory count down to just 41,000 restrictions to surpass South Dakota in becoming the least-regulated state in the country. In Littles “Chainsaw” video, he claims a 95% reduction of “Red Tape.” Little clarified by saying, “when we reduce the friction on entrepreneurs and businesses, good-paying jobs follow.” The main ad for the 2022 Primary Election was the Chainsaw Commercial which reiterated what Little considers a hallmark accomplishment of his term as Governor.
What is the Source cited for Least Regulated State? To support the claim, the chainsaw ad cites an 11/10/21 article by KOMO, a television station in Seattle. The KOMO article states, “Idaho is the least regulated state in the nation, a study from George Mason University says.” The KOMO article included a quote from Governor Little, which came from his 11/10/21 Press Release. This Press Release reveals the specific source for the claim: “Mercatus data is publicly available at this link: https://www.quantgov.org/regcensus-explorer.” For some reason, the Chainsaw Commercial does NOT cite the original source of the Least Regulated State claim in the Chainsaw Ad, but it does cite the original source in the 11/10/21 Press Release.
The bottom line is that Idaho earned the title of Least Regulated State solely based on the extensive research and publicly available data of the Mercatus Center. Mercatus has become the uncontested Gold Standard for determining the Least Regulated State.
How did Idaho Earn the title of Least Regulated State? In a nutshell, regulations are numbered, but restrictions are not. You cannot simply count them. A single “regulation” contains many restrictions. Both McLaughlin’s and Mercatus research showed that regulations are determined by 5 restrictive words: “shall,” “must,” “may not,” “prohibited,” and “required.” Says McLaughlin the original researcher, “We used custom computer programs to count the occurrences of each of these five strings.”
It’s as simple as that. You take the text files of the regulations from all the agencies in a state – which are now publicly available from Mercatus – count the total occurrences of each of these 5 restrictive words, and that gives the restrictions count. If you eliminate any of the above words, or substitute another word, you lower your count each time you do that. So, for example, if you change the word “shall” to “will“, you lower the restrictions count every time that is done.
As an Idaho Statesman article explains, “According to a study released this fall by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, the least regulated state is South Dakota with 44,000 restrictions. Of Idaho’s 72,000 restrictions, Little said 30,936, have been eliminated . . . with Idaho cutting more than 40% of its restrictions this year, bringing the number down to about 41,000, Idaho has surpassed South Dakota and is now the least-regulated state in the country.”
How Idaho earned the coveted, well-publicized title of Least Regulated State title? By reducing the total occurrences “in large part of similar” of these 5 simple words to be lower than all other states. Unless you dig deep, you would never know the huge distinction between regulations and restrictions. This nearly invisible, but game-changing distinction escaped the attention of nearly everyone.
Case in point, it likely escaped your attention in the opening paragraph, even though both words are bolded in Little’s quote. This helps explain how Idaho’s total restrictions between 2019 and 2022 were cut by 27.8% but the total word count was reduced by less than half that – 10.8%. Reducing word count by only 10.8% does not explain how Red Tape was cut by 95% according to Little’s claim.
The 2022 Idaho Regulations contain just under 4 million words, which means it would take about a month and a half for the average person to read the entire body of Idaho regulations. It is important to understand that these are only the regulations coming from the 180 Agencies in our state. It does not include the statutes written by the legislature. That statutory data is also available from QuantGov. For Idaho, that adds another 5.4 million words and 95,301 restrictions.
Given the claim that our status of being the least regulated state will “reduce regulatory friction [and] good jobs follow”, in the context of over 9 million words and 132,000 regulatory and statutory restrictions, what is the material effect of “How Idaho ushered in the largest regulatory cuts in state history“? and how does this help small businesses and entrepreneurs as Little claimed?
The Mercatus Center provides an in-depth analysis of the original study and an Expert Commentary to shed light on the state rankings. However states reduced their restriction count, the fact remains it only matters to the extent it has a meaningful positive impact on the whole point of this exercise – helping the economy. the Mercatus Center was, and continues to be, focused on policy that moves the needle in that direction, not moving the needle on political talking points to earn votes, or to become a cornerstone of a Business Attraction Campaign to create jobs in Idaho through an outdated, counter-productive, zero-sum game of tax subsidies and incentives (as explained in a Mercatus Center Study) designed to attract out-of-state business to Idaho.
Rankings by State
QuantGov has two main metrics for ranking States – Total number of Restrictions, and Word Count. Restrictions, as stated earlier, are not determined by counting chapters or other numbering schemes in State regulations and statutes. QuantGov instead counts the instance of the following restrictive words: “shall”, “must”, “may not”, “required” and “prohibited”. The number of Restrictions is the sum of the totals of these five words in the millions of words of regulations for each State. To see the charts quantifying this information please click here: https://bradforidaho.com/brad-little-2022-campaign-chainsaw-ad/
What is the REAL Total Restrictions Count?
If you look at the changes from 2019 – 2022, you notice a few things. First, the Total Restrictions were reduced by 14,034 from 50,646 to 36,612 – 27.8%. If you look at the Word Count, that only decreased by 483,213 – 10.8%. Taking this one step further, what was the biggest contributor to this change of 14,034?
The instances of “shall” decreased by 11,436 from 2019 to 2022 – 46%. This decrease in the instances of “shall” is 81% of the total number of restrictions that were removed from the 2019 regulations to earn Idaho the Least Regulated State title.
If you change the instance of the word “shall” to “will” or “should”, or change “shall not” to “may not” or “cannot”, or change “shall be comprised of” to “is comprised of”, you reduce the restrictions count, but the intended restriction – remains. There is no functional difference between Thou Shalt Not Kill, and Thou Will Not Kill. It’s still a commandment.
What is the REAL Consequence? This doesn’t just decrease the restrictions count. It INCREASES the ambiguity. For example, Thou Should Not Kill might sound like a suggestion. However, in the business world, it’s about managing risk. In the legal world, it’s about removing all ambiguity because law can be subject to interpretation. Add the two together and it means that every time a business chooses to roll the dice and make the case Thou Should Not Kill isn’t a restriction, they risk ending up in court or being subject to an agency ruling against them. They will make the prudent decision to comply, but the issue is this. It is easy for them to do a simple word search on the five keywords to find all the restrictions within a Regulation. It is NOT easy to find all those potential restrictions when keywords are changed in order to lower the restriction count.
The Important question is did Brad and his cronies fool anyone in Idaho? The answer is a resounding YES. Did He fool someone like President Trump? One might think about why President Trump endorsed Janice McGeachin instead of Brad Little. https://gov.idaho.gov/pressrelease/president-trump-vice-president-pence-meet-with-governor-little-on-regulatory-reform/
Did Brad Little fool you into voting for him??
You can read the full report done by our researchers here: https://bradforidaho.com/brad-little-2022-campaign-chainsaw-ad/
“We Get the Government We Deserve”.