The People Always Pay for the Folly of Politicians

Politicians, especially those who think they are doing something “for the good of the people,” seem oblivious to the cost of their folly.

Unfortunately, the people that encourage them to “do something” about every imaginable problem, whether its violence or obesity, forget that they end up paying the bill, particularly the legal bill that often follows legislative excess.

In our court system, the losers in original litigation, evidentiary discovery testimony, legal briefs, and the appeals by stubborn defendants’ can end up paying court fees by the losing party. When that party is a taxpayer funded arm of government, the taxpayers are the ones who really end up paying for the intransigence of their public officials.

I was reminded of this in early March when State Supreme Court Justice Milton Tingling in Manhattan invalidated New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ban on soft drinks over 16 ounces.

The judge ruled that the big drink ban, one of the most recent of Bloomberg’s reforms, was “arbitrary and capricious.” Tingling declared the city law invalid, after the American Beverage Association and other business groups had sued the city, challenging the ban.

According to Reuters news service and NBC, Tingling ruled that Bloomberg and the city’s Board of Health did not have the authority to issue the soda ban.

Immediately, Bloomberg decried the judge’s ruling and vowed to appeal, which he did the next day.

Touting New York City public health policies from the last decade or during Bloomberg’s many terms in office—from banning trans fats to requiring chain restaurants to post calorie counts—the mayor emphasized that the large sugary beverage rule is about saving lives.

That’s always the justification for restrictive laws of all kinds, such as the anti-gun laws in cities like Washington, DC, and Chicago. But such wishful explanations don’t always work when laws and constitutions are abrogated.

DC lost in the Supreme Court’s 2008 Heller decision. Chicago lost in the 2010 high court ruling in the McDonald case. Chicago and DC had to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorneys’ fees in those cases. And those fees came out of the pockets of the taxpayers in Chicago and the District of Columbia because of the bullheadedness of politicians. The people paid the bills, not the headline grabbing politicians who claimed to be helping their constituents.

But Chicago and DC are not the only municipalities that have had to pay for the folly of their headline-hunting politicians. Over the years, the bill for anti-gun obstinacy has amounted to millions of dollars and has been paid by the citizens of cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and other towns across the nation that have lost suits because of “well intentioned” anti-gun laws.

What politicians seem to ignore is that their continued obstinacy is not only costly, but sometimes makes matters worse for their cause.

When a city loses in lower court, the bill isn’t as large as when they continue to appeal. In addition, the rulings of lower courts are usually limited to the jurisdiction of that court. When they lose in a higher court, that decision becomes a precedent affecting a larger geographic area. A decision in one federal district is limited in force to that district. In a federal appellate court, the decision can apply to several states. If the case goes all the way to the Supreme Court, it can apply to the whole country.

For example, because it was based on a case in a federal enclave, the Heller decision applied only to other federal enclaves and territories. When the McDonald decision resulting from Chicago’s appeal came down, it applied the Heller ruling to every town and state in the nation.

The intransigence of Chicago politicians ended up costing Chicago taxpayers, but also further injured the anti-gun cause on a national basis.

So when politicians such as Bloomberg—or Rahm Emmanuel, mayor of Chicago—bluster and posture about their pet causes it costs their taxpayers money, and they often injure the causes of other mayors and lawmakers.

I’m sure Bloomberg, Emmanuel and their fellow burghers are aware of this themselves, but I doubt that they want the citizens who vote for them knowing that in the end, the politicians shrug and walk away, while the people pay for their follies.

Bloomberg, however, has too much ego to take no for an answer. His crusades continue.

“As far as we have come, there is one public health crisis that has grown worse and worse over the years, and that is obesity,” he said. “Five thousand people will die of obesity this year in New York. The best science tells us that sugary drinks are a cause of obesity.” Beverage manufacturers and business groups in their court arguments had called the law an illegal overreach that would infringe upon consumers’ personal liberty.

In his 37-page ruling, Judge Tingling agreed with the complainants, saying that the sugary drink ban “would create an administrative Leviathan and violate the separation of powers doctrine.” The ban would have prohibited the city’s food-service businesses from selling sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces, though city officials had said they would not begin imposing $200 fines on offending businesses until June. Yet if Bloomberg had won, thirsty New Yorkers could have ordered two 16-ounce drinks—at higher cost— rather than one big drink. Alternatively, they could have crossed the New York City lines and bought any size drink they wanted.

Now, the city will place its drink policy on hold pending the appeal.

The court ruling provides a sigh of relief to New Yorkers and thousands of small businesses in New York City that would have been harmed by this arbitrary and unpopular ban.

Matthew Greller of the National Association of Theatre Owners of New York State wrote that the issue was “never about obesity, nor about soda.” “This was all about power,” Greller said. “Greater education, awareness and collaboration with all the stakeholders will make a far greater impact than any unpopular and unfair executive decree.” Meanwhile, another news article reports that Bloomberg was about to target blue tooth devices that were too loud.

Apparently, he doesn’t learn, and neither do the taxpayers of New York City.