While Montanans are making New Year’s resolutions to cut back on junk food and hit the gym in 2022, state government agencies are busy with a resolution of their own: eliminate excessive and unnecessary red tape.
Thanks to Gov. Greg Gianforte’s Red Tape Relief Initiative, created in January 2021, Montana state agencies have focused for the last year on a “top-to-bottom” regulatory review to identify “excessive, outdated and unnecessary regulations” to be repealed. Montanans can expect this initiative to pay off in 2022 as new data will likely begin to show a significant reduction in the regulatory burden on our economy.
While regulation is necessary in some cases to protect health, safety and the environment, the accumulation of thousands of regulations has been shown to stifle economic growth and substantially increase the cost of doing business.
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By 2020, Montana’s regulatory code had grown to over 4.7 million words and nearly 60,000 regulatory restrictions, as measured by words like “shall,” “must” and “required” in the state’s rulebook. It would take a typical person nearly seven weeks to read every rule in Montana’s 2020 administrative code, assuming 40 hours per week at a normal pace of reading.
The Frontier Institute’s latest Red Tape Snapshot, which covers May 2020 to May 2021, shows little change in the status of Montana’s regulatory burden. As of May 2021, Montana’s rules contained 59,882 restrictions compared to 59,788 in May 2020, an increase of .16%.
These thousands of restrictions and red tape impose real costs on Montana’s regional economic competitiveness. With 72,345 restrictions on the books, Wyoming was the only neighbor state with more regulatory restrictions than Montana. On the other hand, North Dakota had 54,367 restrictions, South Dakota had 46,561 and Idaho 39,077.
However, the stage is set for Montana to begin reversing this trend in 2022. Rule notices indicate the Red Tape Relief Initiative has already spurred large reductions in the state’s regulatory burden.
For example, Notice 24-16-379 from the Department of Labor and Industry (DLI) last month proposed to amend six rules and repeal 27 rules, eliminating numerous regulatory restrictions which will increase “accuracy, consistency, simplicity, better organization and ease of use for customers and staff.” DLI cited alignment with the governor’s Red Tape Relief Initiative in its reasoning for the proposed change and said the rules had not been revisited or amended in over a decade.
Another notice from the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks in November proposed to amend at least 25 rules and repeal 17 to eliminate “outdated and unnecessary language”. The department said this was the first time a comprehensive review of this chapter of regulations had even been completed.
Frontier Institute is following the Red Tape Relief Initiative closely and will provide another update when new data is available around the middle of 2022. If Montana leaders continue to make good on their resolution to eliminate excessive and unnecessary red tape, we anticipate this update will show Montanans finally starting to see substantial regulatory relief.
But as avid gym goers will tell you, most people don’t follow through with New Year’s resolutions. Thankfully, there are tools available for the public to help hold our regulators accountable. The Office of the Governor has published a portal on the state’s website where anyone can identify and report burdensome regulations that might impact their business. Submitting recommendations might just be the spark needed for state regulators to refocus and kick their red tape habit once and for all in 2022.
Kendall Cotton is president and CEO of the Frontier Institute, a think tank dedicated to breaking down government barriers so all Montanans can thrive.