Job licensing

Anyone who argues state government has been cut to the bone hasn’t visited Nevada’s website.

Clicking on the “Boards & Commissions” button reveals flab begging to be carved away. More than 160 panels are listed alphabetically. Most of them serve dubious purposes — especially licensing boards that exist solely to deny low-skill workers the chance to earn a living while protecting regulated industries from new competition.

Even the worst barber is supposed to have a license from the state Cosmetology Board. If you’ve got a green thumb and want to help neighbors beautify their yards, you’re supposed to be licensed by the Board of Landscape Architecture. Good with colors? Better get your license in interior design.

More occupations require the approval of a government entity to enter the field. Studies show that nearly 30 percent of American workers now need government licenses to lawfully do their jobs, up from 5 percent in the early 1950s.

Most licensing boards comprise people who work in the very fields they regulate. They have a financial incentive to keep people out of their profession. In fact, some boards — those that oversee taxicabs and limousines are especially notorious — demand proof from applicants that their presence in a market won’t hurt existing businesses.

Competition is supposed to weed out inefficient enterprises, not reward them. Limiting competition forces consumers to pay artificially high prices for services.

Gov.-elect Brian Sandoval has questioned the need, especially in this economy, for so many cost-imposing bureaucracies. Lame-duck Gov. Jim Gibbons, a fellow Republican, had already asked 36 boards and commissions to justify their existence. Even majority Democrat lawmakers have acknowledged that some current functions of government will have to be eliminated to balance the 2011-13 budget.

With so many Nevadans unemployed, licensing standards make it extremely difficult for the jobless to start businesses, especially home-based ones. The state needs a culture of opportunity, not bureaucracy, to grow its battered economy.

There is no reason for the state to regulate so many industries, especially when some licensing entities are nothing more than make-work programs, collecting fees and offering little service to the public in return. Other boards are a clear drain on the general fund. Every tax dollar must be put to its most productive use possible. The balance on the books of some boards would be better spent elsewhere.

Mr. Sandoval and the 2011 Legislature have a good place to start cutting and restyling government. It’s makeover time.

Fortunately, they don’t need a cosmetology license to do it.

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