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Amend bill to eliminate newspaper corporate welfare

It’s not that the bill is bad because it reduces the longevity requirement, but because the whole notion that certain interests need to be given taxpayer dollars just to republish information that already can be disseminated cheaply, easily, and widely is wasteful corporate welfare.

State Rep. Ray Garafalo’s HB 943 would scale back the time requirement for being in business for a print media outlet to become a governing authority’s official journal. State law requires all entities must bid out these contracts, including state government’s. He argues it would permit a recently-established local outlet to bid for the work, which now is performed by out-of-parish owners.

This attitude precisely illustrates the moral objection to this whole notion that a physical printing must be performed at taxpayer expense when far cheaper and as available alternatives exist in this era of electronic archiving. Here, government is making choices about which private interests may reap the benefit of policy. That happens all the time, but those who prize limited government should recognize that appropriate policy should minimize this, that government should do the function itself if it can be done more inexpensively without loss of quality.

Two decades ago, the legal requirement might have made sense. Newspapers were the only mass circulation delivery devices that could be archived adequately. But the Internet has changed all of that; for example, a great many governing authorities routinely place their agendas, minutes, laws/ordinances, etc. online, comprising exactly the same information that, at the state level, they pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to one of a handful of entities to accomplish – suitors the number of which the law intentionally keep very anti-competitively low. And these needless requirements can lead to errors that increase costs and inefficiency even more.

Almost annually, attempts are made in the Legislature to rid the state of the millions of dollars of costs the citizenry pays for this redundancy, although no such bill has yet made its way into the legislative hopper this year. Predictably, and ironically if not hypocritically, newspapers, facing severe competitive pressure brought on by the Internet, fight these attempt to cut off their mother’s milk even as they rail against other instances of wasteful government spending or question other government contracts. The constant in all of these instances is defenders of the corporate welfare have not a single good argument to keep this system going, and reminds us all they want is the money.

Hopefully, this bill will get hijacked by amendment to eliminate the requirement in its entirety and leave dissemination in the hands of governments, or that it be opened up to allow for electronic distribution to count, which would be far more competitive and much cheaper if taxpayer dollars must be spent on this. Otherwise, cash-strapped governments needlessly will continue forcibly to subsidize a declining industry at taxpayer expense.

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