by Jonathan Decker
New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez recently announced a new initiative that should give workers in “The Land of Enchantment” much to celebrate — reforming the state’s onerous occupational licensing requirements. Governor Martinez’s focus on this issue during her final months in office is the icing on the cake to her successful two-term governorship, and the positive impact of her policy changes will be felt long after she leaves office.
In policy circles, we frequently throw around terms like “regressive tax” to describe a penalty that disproportionately falls on the poor or middle class. On that note, occupational licensing requirements are a surefire “regressive regulation” — the real burden of these laws overwhelmingly falls on low-income families. To use a prominent example, it is undeniably ridiculous for a local government to demand someone pay $110 for a “license” to mow their neighbors’ lawn. These regulations are a serious barrier to labor force participation for those less fortunate, and they literally criminalize work.
For too long, New Mexico’s residents have been especially impacted by these regulations. As the Institute for Justice’s Andrew Wimer noted for Forbes.com:
New Mexico has the ninth most burdensome licensing laws in the nation. Because it also licenses more of the occupations studied than average—66 of 102—New Mexico is also the 11th most broadly and onerously licensed state.
Governor Martinez is tackling this problem via an executive order, which:
…requires licensing boards to review and report all [occupational licensing] requirements, processes and rules pertaining to the licenses they administer. Among other things, boards will have to report the number of states that license an occupation and provide additional justification for regulation if fewer than half of states license it. That’s especially important in New Mexico since the state is one of only 12 that license bartenders, six that license packers, and one of only two that license dietetic technicians.
Gov. Martinez is also asking boards to consider less restrictive alternatives to licensing, of which there are many. License to Work identifies 10 such alternatives that can protect consumers without shutting people out of work. Four of the options are completely voluntary and require no government intervention. One alternative is private certification programs, like what you find among auto mechanics. Uncertified mechanics are still free to operate, but certified mechanics are sending a signal that they take their work seriously and will do a better job than someone who isn’t certified. [Emphasis added]
As more Americans see the economic benefits of President Trump’s reduction of red tape at the federal level, states should mimic his success by freeing up workers and investment in their backyard. Kudos to Governor Martinez for doing exactly that. Let’s hope that more governors will follow Martinez’s lead by reducing regressive occupational licensing regulations in their state.
Photo credit: Amtec Staffing via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0