Thursday, November 11, 2004

Odds of maintaining property rights decline or . . .

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:01 PM |  

. . . as the St. Paul Pioneer Press headline reads "Odds improve for statewide smoking ban."

According to Gov. Pawlenty, last week’s election makes it more likely the Minnesota Legislature will pass some kind of statewide ban on smoking in public places. The governor said that if a ban passed, he would sign it into law. That would be a mistake.

Smoking bans, if they are to be passed, are properly a local issue both in principle (the proper division of power between federal state and local governments) and practice (local jurisdictions are best able to deal with local issues). In addition --

  • Individual communities can consider local business climate and hear local voices when debating policy. Statewide enforcement of regional issues, with virtually no local input, disregards vastly diverse geographic, cultural and economic factors.

  • When local policy is made, the losing side has the viable option to campaign, change people's minds and vote into office people sympathetic to its view. Conversely, the costs and logistics of fighting to change a statewide law that disproportionately harms a relatively few people but provides a "free ride" to many is virtually insurmountable.

  • Local implementation makes it immediately apparent whether or not an ordinance has unintended consequences. It's relatively simple to alter policy that goes too far or not far enough. A statewide law with disproportionate impact in diverse communities defies reasonable evaluation, let alone change.

  • But the most important reason to keep smoking policy local is creating local government accountability. If a locally imposed smoking ban damages specific businesses, it is fair and reasonable to expect local taxpayers to compensate those businesses — as they must when government condemns private property for "public benefit."
These arguments are laid out fully in my Pioneer Press column “Smoking ban is properly local issue.”