The Innovators Beyond The Beltway

'Government is not the solution to our problem," Ronald Reagan said in his first inaugural address. "Government is the problem."

It often seems that way. Washington politicians of both parties seem to make laws with little regard for the consequences. One cynical case in point: Faced with tight budget constraints, Congress instead imposes costly mandates on states, localities, and business. Some mandates, such as civil rights and pollution control, are necessary. Yet mandates have proliferated beyond reason, spawning monstrous bureaucracies that stifle initiative.

The federal government should issue fewer orders to state and local governments. Instead, it should learn from those governors and mayors who are taking a fresh, entrepeneurial approach to public pmlicy problems. These innovators are attempting a government overhaul on a scale not seen since the Progressive movement around the turn of the century. The objective: To invigorate government by allowing citizens more choice, injecting competition into public services, and emphasizing customer service.

Who are the movers and shakers? Democrats such as Edward G. Rendell, mayor of Philadelphia, and Lawton Chiles, governor of Florida. Republicans like Stephen Goldsmith, mayor of Indianapolis, and William F. Weld, governor of Massachusetts. The traditional labels--liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican--are less important than a shared vision of reform.

And why now? Money and jobs. Yes, the economy is improving, but the taxpaying middle class is still fed up. And businesses, more mobile than ever in an Information Age, can vote with their feet by moving to regions where governments are cheaper and work better.

The problem is not government, but inefficient, bureaucratic government. And in the laboratories of democracy, governors and mayors are finding workable remedies for the nation's social problems--deteriorating schools, inadequate medical care, a failing welfare system--that the federal government could well learn from.