Ever heard of "gift clauses"? Unless you're Richard Epstein, John Yoo, or someone else who writes books at the same frequency that most of us pay our electric bills, the odds are probably slim.
As it turns out, they're constitutional prohibitions on subsidies ... and they're found in 47 states in the union. I was totally unfamiliar with them too until reading a piece by the Competitive Enterprise Institute's Trey Kovacs in the Deseret News explaining how Arizona's version of the policy was recently resuscitated:
... On the same day that Wisconsin voters stood up for fiscal responsibility, in Arizona, the Maricopa County Superior Court ruled that contracts paying government union employees for time spent doing union business are unlawful under Arizona's Constitution.
The Goldwater Institute, a pro-free market public policy organization, sued the city of Phoenix over its compensating the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, or PLEA, for time spent negotiating union contracts, lobbying legislation, and attending union functions. "Such activities promote the private interests of PLEA and, as a result, do not constitute public purposes," ruled Judge Katherine Cooper. "It is a subsidy and subject to gift clause analysis." Arizona's gift clause stopped what amounted to a $1 million subsidy to the union.
Residents in other states can take similar action, and most already have the tool. Gift clauses date back to the 1840s and 1870s, when most lawmakers in most states sought to end the state governments' ability to lend or incur debt to the state for the benefit of any private individual, corporation or association. The legislation, commonly referred to as the gift clause, is still on the books in 47 states. It only needed resuscitation and enforcement to end runaway government spending and favors to politically connected special interests.
Some of the best (and most underpublicized) work in the conservative movement comes from the wide variety of state think tanks (like Goldwater) operating under the umbrella of the State Policy Network, as well as similarly market-oriented public interest law firms (like the Institute for Justice and the Pacific Legal Foundation). Here's to hoping that more of the enterprising young bucks who staff those kinds of institutions start taking gift clauses out for a spin throughout the nation.
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