Dan Walters

By Dan Walters
Published: Tuesday, Sep. 6, 2011 – 12:00 am | Page 3A
Last Modified: Tuesday, Sep. 6, 2011 – 6:27 am

There’s no official definition of liberal government, but a fair description would be the proactive use of official powers to protect and enhance the public welfare, however that may be perceived.

The great political debates at all levels of government are over how deep that intrusion should be – such as the turmoil over whether the federal government should mandate purchase of health care insurance.

That philosophical debate aside, there is a darker side to liberal government.

Its regulation and taxation have great financial impact, creating an incentive to reshape public policies for private gain.

Every new regulatory or taxation policy immediately spawns an array of financial stakeholders who then hire lobbyists and political consultants, distribute money to political policymakers, and seek self-serving applications of government power.

They may be a subsidy from a local government redevelopment agency, a tax loophole, a regulatory crackdown on a competitor, a change in the coastal zone’s regulatory boundaries, or monopoly licensing status, to name but a few examples.

And politicians, for obvious reasons, like having the power to grant favors, even when it defies rationality, such as the Legislature’s micro-control over which horse breed can race at which track on which day, or over company-by-company exceptions to the state’s anachronistic liquor sales laws.

The Capitol’s chief activity is, in fact, directly or indirectly taking money from someone and giving it to someone else. And one of its dirty little secrets is that the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on lobbying, contributions and other tools of persuasion pale in comparison to the many billions of dollars that politicians can dispense.

The 2011 legislative session’s final days are, as usual, replete with efforts to gain such financial advantages. While most fly under the radar, some are too big to hide.

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