Thursday, April 22, 2010

Bureaucrats or Politicians?

So long as the government has the power to dispose of the property of the citizenry, lines will form in an attempt to influence legislators and bureaucrats. Individuals, special interest groups, and businesses will clamor for exemptions to existing law, controls on others, or some other form of political favoritism. As the Chronicle correctly notes, the benefits bestowed upon some can only come at the expense of others:
The politics of taxation in Texas are convoluted. No elected official in his or her right mind would openly advocate raising ad valorem taxes for overburdened homeowners, but our politicians regularly figure out back-door routes to give tax exemptions to their friends. And a break for one party usually translates to added burden for the rest of us.
In this particular case, Valero is seeking tax breaks for installing equipment required to meet EPA standards, which would save the company millions of dollars. In other words, Valero is seeking to mitigate the damage caused by the mandates of one government agency by lobbying another government agency.

As the paper properly points out, we cannot blame Valero for seeking to reduce its tax burden--the company has a fiduciary responsibility to its shareholders. The paper's complaint is that the decision will apparently be made by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), rather than the legislature. The paper believes that there is virtue in lobbying elected politicians, but not appointed bureaucrats.

It could be argued that politicians are answerable to "the people" while bureaucrats must answer only to the governor. But this distinction is trivial. The fate of Valero's property rests in the hands of government officials. They will decide how Valero must dispose of its property. It matters little which government entity issues the dictates.

Morally, Valero has a right to use its property as it chooses. Nobody--including government--has a moral right to force the company to act contrary to its own judgment (so long as the company does not violate the mutual rights of others). This applies not only to the tax dollars extorted by a long list of government entities, but also to the EPA mandates requiring reduced emissions.

Neither the TCEQ nor the legislature nor the EPA has a moral right to dispose of anyone's property. Government's purpose is the protection of individual rights, including property rights. Until it limits itself to that purpose, we will continue to see a parade of groups seeking government favors and exemptions.

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