Senator Sam Brownback, running for governor of Kansas, has proposed an "Office of the Repealer" for his state, whose job would be to get rid of old laws that no longer make sense. Andrew Cuomo, running for New York governor, is proposing a dramatic cleaning out of accumulated bureaucracy. In a 250-page book released when he announced his campaign last month, Mr. Cuomo notes that, in the state's health department alone, the legislature has created at least 87 administrative units, including 46 councils, 17 boards, six institutes, six committees, five facilities, two task forces, two offices, two advisory panels, and one work group.
Brownback and Cuomo are on to something important. Democracy can't function when essential choices are dictated by laws passed decades ago. Like sediment in the harbor, laws pile up until it is impossible to get anywhere. We wonder why officials are powerless to balance budgets, or contain health care costs, or maintain order in schools. The answer is the same in each case: Statutes and other legal dictates have pre-ordained current practices -- they dictate how the public budget is spent (mainly on entitlements), how health care is reimbursed, and how teachers must make ordinary classroom management decisions.