by Nick Dranias
Many local governments in Arizona want us to believe they have gone to extreme lengths to tighten their budget belts. But when you hear that Tucson is using its sign laws to squelch artistic murals on the historic Rialto Theater because the murals aren’t purely for artistic purposes—they also promote shows at the theater—your realize budgets can’t be that bare. Then there are the pool cops of Maricopa County, who are aiming to shut down weekend pool parties used by Phoenix-area resorts to boost their business during this recession.
Any government that can waste resources on such measures has too many idle hands on the payroll. The fact that local governments can’t recognize this shows that streamlining budgets requires more than a commitment to saving money. It requires a guiding philosophy of limited government.
In many cases, cities and counties cannot focus limited resources on core functions because they cannot identify what functions are core. Laws against genuine public nuisances have no higher standing than crack downs on wall murals and bans on resort pool parties where guests might eat or drink too close to the water. Resources are stretched because government officials are using them to perform needless and often abusive tasks.
Fortunately, local governments can look right at the Arizona Constitution for guidance on identifying core functions: “All political power is inherent in the people, and governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, and are established to protect and maintain individual rights.”
Officials who accept this basic principle of limited government are unlikely to prosecute businesses for such offenses as painting wall murals on their own property that also advertise their business and planning some outdoor fun to attract more customers. No function of government is a core function if it has nothing to do with protecting and maintaining individual rights.
Nick Dranias holds the Clarence J. and Katherine P. Duncan Chair for Constitutional Government and is Director of the Joseph and Dorothy Donnelly Moller Center for Constitutional Government at the Goldwater Institute.