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OpenMarket: Water

  • Taxpayer-Funded Green Ministries in Prince George's County Violate the Constitution

    November 21, 2014 3:15 PM

    Reporters like separation of church and state, unless it’s progressives violating it. Then, they lose interest in the concept. A recent Washington Post story cheerily reported on churches getting exemptions from a state-mandated stormwater fee (Maryland’s “rain tax”) in exchange for taking “green” positions, in the progressive bastion of Prince George’s County, Maryland. The story did so without even mentioning the serious issues that raises under the Establishment Clause and the First Amendment.

    This sets a dangerous precedent. As legal commentator Walter Olson asks, “Since when does government get the power to cut churches tax breaks in exchange for their agreement to preach an approved line?”

    This violates freedom of speech under the unconstitutional conditions doctrine. Under Supreme Court precedent, you can’t condition a valuable government benefit like a tax exemption on someone’s speech. Speiser v. Randall, 357 U.S. 513 (1958), was a Supreme Court case addressing California’s refusal to grant a veteran a tax exemption because he refused to sign a loyalty oath as required by a California law. The Supreme Court ruled that the condition violated the First Amendment. The Supreme Court has reaffirmed this “unconstitutional conditions” doctrine in many other cases and contexts, such as in Dollan v. City of Tigard, 512 U.S. 374, 385 (1994).

  • Western Water and California Drought, Part 2: No Need for Malthusian Despair

    September 9, 2014 8:28 AM

    Well, some good news—it’s raining in Los Angeles.

    Western droughts combined with questionable water access policies spawn water crises that unfortunately are not unique to the American west and California in particular.

    Rather, water access issues are globally contentious. A Wall Street Journal book review on the “unhappy descent” of Turkey’s Meander River invoked common laments that: 

    In North America, so much water is taken out of the Colorado that it no longer reaches the sea. Nor does the Rio Grande. Or the River Jordan. Or China’s Yellow River.

    Access to water in times of plenty and in times of drought is a fundamental infrastructure concern worldwide. Further, the issues surrounding innovation and research in water policy are elements of broader science and manufacturing policy.

    Aggravations abound—and so do penalties. One Oregon man catching rainwater on his own property received 30 days in jail for breaking a 1925 law prohibiting personal reservoirs. But when scarcity looms and emotions run high, strange things happen.

    In addition to novelties like rainwater theft prosecution, water policy can be fundamentally perverse and distortionary: water supply systems may not cover their debts, operations and capital replacement needs, and as governmental monopolies, they sometimes “are used as cash cows to support more labor-intensive functions of local government, such as fire and police,” as G. Tracy Meehan has noted.

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