By Johan Soto
It can be hard to grasp just how far-reaching government has become in our daily lives. But with over 52,000 regulations just at the state level, the government has a say in nearly every aspect of Alaskans’ personal affairs. This alarming figure comes from the Mercatus Center’s State RegData project, which is a tool designed to track and visualize state-level regulations. By tracking the number of times the phrases “shall,” “must,” “may not,” “required,” and “prohibited” appear in a state’s regulations, such as the Alaska Administrative Code (AAC), the project provides insight as to the burden of red tape across the nation.
In addition to the colossal U.S. Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Alaskans are also subject to the AAC, and together, they account for over 110 million words of prohibitions and requirements. The AAC is structured by titles that describe which sector is being regulated. Among these titles, the most regulated are “Commerce, Community, and Economic Development,” “Health and Social Services,” and “Environmental Conservation,” accounting for over 40 percent of state regulations in Alaska. But rather than inspiring growth, these regulations have led to immense costs across the healthcare sector and the economy.
For a possible solution to the overbearing regulation in Alaska, it is useful to look toward a similar economy nearby. Like Alaska, British Columbia has an economy largely dependent on energy, mining, and other natural resources, and it serves many of the same export markets as well. However, a key difference emerges in how British Columbia handled its regulatory problem in the early 2000s. After lagging behind the general Canadian economy for most of the 1990s, the province realized that its 382,000 regulations were largely to blame. In 2001, a newly elected government decided to address this, and by 2004, it had slashed 130,000 unnecessary regulations. In the years following, economic growth rocketed. From 2002 to 2006, growth in British Columbia was 1.1 percentage points above the national average compared to 1.9 percentage points behind the national average between 1994 and 2001. Likewise, by 2008 unemployment was just 4.6 percent in British Columbia compared to Canada’s overall 6.1 percent unemployment. This was a significant shift from 1999, when unemployment in British Columbia was at 8.6 percent compared to a national rate of 7.2 percent.
Unfortunately, Alaska’s government has taken little action to curb regulatory overreach. But there is a path forward. With the spread of COVID-19, states across the country have eased regulations to expand access to health care, including Alaska. If these regulations handicapped our system during a pandemic, it raises the question: Why were they there in the first place? And the healthcare industry is not the only one affected. From the energy sector to the food industry, arbitrary regulations—at both the state and federal levels—only serve to hinder progress. Present work should focus on reducing the 52,000 regulations to lift the burden on Alaskans and promote economic growth.
Johan Soto is the Fall 2020 Policy Analysis Intern at Alaska Policy Forum. He is currently studying nuclear science and engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.