“When we came into office, we saw that Missouri had 113,000 regulations. That’s more than 7.5 million words; it’s 40 dictionaries worth of regulations.”
— Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens
Wednesday, July 12th, 2017 in a Facebook post
In a Facebook post, Gov. Eric Greitens relayed the story of a small-business owner from Bolivar, Missouri. His business was forced to pay $1,500 a year for landline phones due to an outdated state regulation.
“When we came into office, we saw that Missouri had 113,000 regulations,” Greitens wrote in the post. “That’s more than 7.5 million words; it’s 40 dictionaries worth of regulations.”
The purpose of Greitens’ post was to launch NoMORedTape.com, his website that allows Missourians to crowdsource comments on laws and rules. On the site, constituents can voice their displeasure with any government regulations disrupting their everyday lives.
Its goal is to remove unnecessary regulations, and keep rules that benefit Missourians.
Forty dictionaries of regulations seems excessive. Let’s see how close Greitens’ claim is to reality.
Regulations vs. statutes
When the Missouri General Assembly passes a statute, its role in the lawmaking process is done. Now, to enforce the laws, that’s up to agencies in the executive branch. Regulations provide detail to statutes.
According to Maura Browning, director of communications for the Secretary of State’s office, individual agencies have their own set of rules for creating regulations. Once they follow their process for making a regulation, it becomes part of the Code of State Regulations.
There are 22 separate titles in the code, many with dozens of chapters under multiple divisions. These encompass the 113,000 regulations Greitens was talking about in his post. Title 4, the Department of Economic Development, alone has 369 chapters.
When you go to the No MO Red Tape website, a George Mason University study pops up explaining where the large number came from. The university used a tool it developed called StateReg data, an algorithm that reads large regulatory documents. It processes words like “shall,” “must,” “may not,” “prohibited,” and “required” to indicate where there are legal restrictions or obligations in the Missouri Code of State Regulations.
That tool concluded that Missouri has 113,112 regulations. “It would take an individual 418 hours, or 10 weeks, to read the entire CRS,” the study said.
Why that matters
Greitens’ main goal with the No MO Red Tape website is to allow small businesses to thrive without interference from the government. Browning pointed out that regulations also restrict local governments, school boards, counties and other local entities.
As of Oct. 31, Missouri citizens had submitted 4,226 commentsto No MO Red Tape for various regulations. Eighty-nine percent of the comments criticized regulations. Most complaints targeted the Agriculture Department, which received 2,175 comments. Conservation was next with 658, then Public Safety with 236 comments. Finally, the Health and Senior Services department received 201 comments.
Before the website was established, constituents always had the option to complain to elected officials, said Lael Keiser, an MU political science professor. That’s part of the basic relationship between representatives and who they represent. No MO Red Tape just makes commenting more accessible.
The governor’s goal is to reduce regulations. One way he could do that is through appointing new heads to the state’s agencies, Keiser said. Assuming the appointees share the governor’s view of less government interference, they’ll review the statutes and determine which regulations to throw out.
How many words are in a dictionary?
So how does 7.5 million words of regulations stack up in dictionaries? Greitens claimed the regulations would fill 40 dictionaries. That allots roughly 187,500 words per dictionary. We got no response from Merriam-Webster in our quest to find a definite number of words in one of its dictionaries.
The Oxford English Dictionary’s fact page says the second edition’s entire text had 59 million words in just 336 pages. This figure dwarves the number Greitens used, but his office never clarified which dictionaries they were referring to. They also didn’t specify if “words” meant individual entries in the dictionary, or every word on the page.
In a Facebook post, Greitens said, “When we came into office, we saw that Missouri had 113,000 regulations. That’s more than 7.5 million words; it’s 40 dictionaries worth of regulations.”
The word count of the Oxford dictionary — 59 million — blows Greitens’ estimate of the regulations’ word count out of the water.
We didn’t get a response from the governor’s office, so it’s unclear which dictionary he referred to, and whether “words” meant every word on the page or individual entries.
Still, his point is valid: The Missouri Code of State Regulations is a huge document capable of filling many dictionaries.
We rate this claim Mostly True.
Email interview with Anne Rottmann, Legislative Library Administrator
Email interview with Maura Browning, Director of Communications for the Secretary of State
Email interview with Lael Keiser, University of Missouri Political Science professor specializing in public policy and administration
Comments on regulations from constituents – via NoMORedTape
About Politifact Missouri
Missouri Business Alert has partnered with Politifact to keep tabs on statements made by state legislators, the governor and other public figures. Reporters research the statements and rate them based on the Truth-O-Meter.