Law & Principles
Nick Dranias | April 1, 2017
Prosperity districts: Giving freedom a chance
Shouldn’t Oklahoma have at least one tool in the public policy toolbox to deliver less government, less regulation, and more constitutional fidelity for a local community that wants it?
We certainly have enough tools that do the opposite.
There are at least 23 different kinds of mini-governments called “special districts” with which Oklahoma law allows communities to bury themselves in ever more government. They have innocuous names and widely divergent purposes like conservancy districts, water districts, irrigation districts, community junior college districts, hospital districts, municipal parking station districts, emergency medical service districts, and so on. They are layered on top of federal, state, and county government, sometimes on top of cities and towns, and even sometimes on top of each other. More than 640 of them exist in Oklahoma, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Despite their diversity in purpose, these “special districts” all have one thing in common: whichever one they are, wherever they land, each and every one of Oklahoma’s special districts delivers bigger, more intrusive, and more expensive government in their footprint. All of them have regulatory, taxing, and/or borrowing authority to support various spending programs that would not otherwise exist. Not a single special district in Oklahoma—not even the enterprise district management authority (which exists to manage supposedly business-friendly enterprise zones)—truly delivers less government or more fidelity to the constitution for any Oklahoma community than existed before the district’s creation.
Shouldn’t there be at least one?
That’s the question being answered in the affirmative by the Prosperity States Compact bill advanced by House Speaker Charles McCall and state Sen. Kyle Loveless in the Oklahoma legislature, and also by state legislators in Arizona, Mississippi, and North Dakota. The Prosperity States Compact would allow for the creation of the sort of special district that has never existed, but should: the Prosperity District.
What does the Prosperity District do? Simply put, it hits the reset button on big government for any local community that wants to. The sole purpose of a Prosperity District is to serve as a delivery vehicle for the best free-market and limited-government public policies possible in our political system. Once formed, it repeals within its boundaries all of the inefficient, corrupt, and just plain stupid “spaghetti code” regulations and governing authorities that have been layered on top of the state and federal constitutions, the common law, and the criminal law. The Prosperity District replaces that heap of bad public policy with a streamlined local government that is designed to deliver the prosperity that naturally arises from freedom and responsibility.
In essence, a Prosperity District is a local government that is strictly limited to protecting individual rights and furnishing user-fee-supported, competitively bid municipal services. It has no eminent domain authority, no civil forfeiture authority, no taxing authority, and no power to give anyone something for nothing unless everyone within its boundaries agrees to do so. Unlike any other special district, a Prosperity District is not another layer of government. It overrides and displaces all other local governments that might otherwise occupy the same space. It wipes the slate clean above the constitutional, common law, and criminal law baseline, and embeds in any community that wants it the state of the art in freedom-friendly public policy.
And it gets even better than that.
Although a Prosperity District starts by repealing and replacing burdensome state and local regulations when formed, it can eventually push back and reform federal regulations as well. Once a second state joins Oklahoma in passing the Prosperity States Compact legislation, an interstate compact will be formed (as you might have guessed). And with Congressional consent—usually in the form of a joint resolution signed by the President—the Prosperity States Compact will then achieve the status of federal law. With that, the free-market and limited-government best practices of the Prosperity District would override any conflicting mandate of any federal agency.
It might sound too good to be true, but the Prosperity States Compact actually uses a proven method of delivering deep reforms in an unfavorable political environment. By starting small and only in communities that want to form them, Prosperity Districts will not threaten the established order as much as statewide or national reform. And once one takes root, the renewed proof of the freedom concept will be unstoppable in its ripple effects.
After all, the Soviet Union fell in large part because of the example set by West Berlin. China became the economic powerhouse it is today in large part by replicating most of the economic policies of Hong Kong. It started in a few special economic zones in four cities and later grew to encompass most of the country. The United States itself was a similar example to the world once. These and other examples demonstrate that deep reform in a small area can deliver results that are so obviously successful that the most powerful interests, adverse cultures, and ideologies get swept aside in the rush to replicate the success.
Passage of the Prosperity States Compact would allow communities in Oklahoma and sister states to become beacons of freedom and prosperity, showing the way to restore first the states and then the nation to their founding principles—from the grassroots up, rather than the top down.
Don’t Oklahomans—and Americans—deserve that chance?
Nick Dranias is the president and executive director of the Compact for America Educational Foundation. He is a constitutional scholar and policy innovator, and is the author of more than 50 published articles about law and public policy. He has appeared as a constitutional scholar on Fox News, MSNBC, NPR, and many more media outlets.