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By nearly every measure, regulations in the U.S. have increased substantially over the last century. In 1950 there were fewer than 10,000 pages in the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations. Today that number stands at 186,000. Federal regulators spent about $5 billion in 1960 in today’s dollars, compared with around $81 billion in 2019. The number of people working at federal regulatory agencies is now approaching 300,000.

In light of these facts, the growth of federal regulation appears impossible to stop. But several states are showing unexpected signs of progress in their battle against red tape, and this could bode well for reforms at the federal level.

On March 10 Ohio Gov.

Mike DeWine

signed Senate Bill 9, which requires state agencies to reduce their regulatory restrictions by 30% over three years. The reform builds on and is informed by a 2019 law requiring state departments to produce detailed inventories of the restrictions they impose. Senate Bill 9’s cuts, once achieved, will become a ceiling on the overall volume of rules going forward.

With an estimated 263,000 regulatory restrictions in place—the fourth-highest number in the nation—it isn’t surprising that Ohio state legislators are looking to return some sanity to their rule-making process. Time will tell how successful the reforms will be, but if Senate Bill 9 works, it could be a dress rehearsal for much bigger reforms at the federal level that are more cosmic in scope.


Gina Raimondo

became governor of Rhode Island in 2015, she set a goal of reducing the regulatory volume in her state by 15%. Ultimately, Rhode Island cut 33% of its red tape, with 77% of the code revised or reformed in all. In 2019, Idaho sunset its entire regulatory code, replacing it with a new version, and Gov.

Brad Little

claims to have cut or simplified 95% of rules.

In both Idaho and Rhode Island, the default for regulations shifted toward elimination. Regulators were required to justify keeping a rule. This is both revolutionary and necessary when thousands of obsolete or duplicative regulations fill the rule books in every state and no one has time to scrutinize each one. Pragmatic use of sunset provisions (expiration dates for rules), regulatory caps and reduction targets may be effective means of not only halting regulatory growth but reversing it.

Can reforms like these work at the federal level, where there is far more regulation than in any state? Partisanship may be the biggest hurdle. It’s relatively easy to generate consensus in states that are politically homogenous. Agreement is much harder for the nation as a whole. But it’s a good sign that three very different states all support pro-business, pro-growth policies. The “laboratories of democracy” are living up to their reputation.

The Biden administration has a lot on its plate, but tackling excessive regulation isn’t necessarily at odds with its goals—regulations often stand in the way of renewable energy development and affordable housing. The Obama administration encouraged periodic reviews of regulations and made occupational-licensing reform a priority.

At a minimum, a future administration concerned with economic growth can take lessons from these state efforts and run with them. The time is ripe for regulatory change, and the states have created a road map for how to achieve it.

Mr. Broughel is a senior research fellow with the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and the author of research and testimony that informed Ohio’s reform.

Potomac Watch (01/20/22): A rare press conference with President Joe Biden talking about his first year in office highlighted some glaring inconsistencies. Images: Getty Images/Care In Action Composite: Mark Kelly

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