WE'VE noted before that some Oklahoma laws and regulations unnecessarily restrict the free market and have an adverse impact on consumers.
That was reinforced again in an article by The Oklahoman's Jennifer Palmer covering retail interest in Oklahoma. When recently asked to comment on the Oklahoma market, Costco's chairman simply emailed a frowny face. The company, which has 600 locations around the globe, is reluctant to open a store in Oklahoma due in part to our Byzantine liquor laws, which prevent Costco from selling wine in its stores.
The state's regulations on the sale of alcoholic beverages are often touted as necessary to ensure the survival of “mom and pop” liquor stores; in reality, those laws protect large retailers from having to compete with Costco. By deterring stores like Costco from entering the Oklahoma market, our liquor laws not only reduce consumer choice regarding where to purchase wine, but also prevent competition in the sale of items such as clothing, electronics, appliances and other products.
Having more businesses competing for consumer dollars keeps prices lower. When state regulations reduce competition, they indirectly promote higher pri-ces. The question is not whether alcohol will be sold in Oklahoma — voters decided that question years ago — but whether we will allow the free market to pick retail winners and losers.
Oklahoma's regulatory problems aren't limited to rules that appear unnecessary or arbitrary, however. The state also has a problem performing valid regulatory functions. Few would argue against having driver's license standards that require new applicants to prove they're not a hazard on the road, yet the state fails miserably to provide driving tests in a timely and efficient manner.
The number of examiners at licensing offices statewide decreased from 152 in 2009 to 105 this year. The number of testing sites has been reduced from 89 to 36 in a decade.
As a result, many citizens have to drive nearly an hour to the nearest testing site, and it's not unusual for lines to run 100 deep before 7 a.m. Only a handful of those applicants can actually be accommodated on a given day; would-be test takers often have to make the trek multiple times. Given those challenges, it's a wonder more people don't drive without a license, which doesn't benefit public safety.
The same problem can be seen in other areas. Following the 2008 economic crisis, state lawmakers approved the Oklahoma Secure and Fair Enforcement for Mortgage Licensing Act, which requires the state Department of Consumer Credit to provide annual exams for mortgage brokers. Scott Lesher, administrator for the agency, says the department needs 25 to 30 more examiners to handle that responsibility in an efficient manner. It's making do with nine. If annual testing is good public policy, why make it difficult for brokers to actually take the tests?
Too often, state officials staunchly defend government regulations of questionable merit while failing to provide efficient administration of regulations with broad public benefit. Such inefficiency is inevitable when government becomes too expansive. Limited government that focuses on proper administration of core functions — and otherwise allows market forces to work in society — is more effective and preferable to a government that halfheartedly tries to be all things to all people.