Wednesday, January 30, 2013
American enterprise is being stifled and squelched by state and local governments, in ways that most Americans don’t even see. With increasing propensity, elected officials nationwide are at times suffocating private businesses with regulations, and at other times competing directly against them – and it happens among both Democrats and Republicans.
A striking reminder of this emerged last week, when it was reported that Democrat San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee was contemplating some sort of “ban” on alcohol sales during the Super Bowl. Drunken vandals got out of hand last year in “the City by the Bay,” when the Giants swept the World Series. The same thing could happen on Super Bowl Sunday this year, with either a 49ers win or loss. So, therefore, the city should step in and try to keep the booze away from the bad guys – at least that’s how the official reasoning went.
The news first emerged with local newspaper and radio websites reporting that the Mayor was seeking a ban. By the time global publications like “International Business Times” had picked up on it, the Mayor had tempered his rhetoric a bit, saying that he was “seeking input from business owners” on how to prevent alcohol-induced vandalism.
The irony here is obvious. This is, after all, San Francisco, a place where, in terms of social and cultural “norms,” almost anything goes. It’s the city where elected officials almost did not pass a ban on public nudity for the first time last November, and yet city officials now want to control liquor consumption.
But here’s the part of the story that nobody reports: such mandates by local governments, arbitrary and unexpected as they often are, damage businesses. Restaurant and bar owners all over the country are naturally banking on steady foot traffic and lots of food and beverage sales on Super Bowl Sunday. No doubt some owners craft their monthly or quarterly budgets around an expected uptick in sales on that day. When politicians disrupt this, they hurt small business owners.
But travel northward some 1200 miles or so from San Francisco, and a less imaginable, more difficult to understand phenomena is happening with private enterprise the worse for it. The state government of Idaho has actually developed a voracious appetite for buying and owning for-profit small businesses of a variety of sorts, and competing against private owners.
Language in that state’s Constitution declares that the land originally granted from the federal government for the creation of Idaho must be managed “in such manner as will secure the maximum long term financial return to the institution to which granted.” From that language, Idaho politicians down through the ages have determined that they have a “fiduciary responsibility” to produce investment returns. So once the first of the original endowment lands were sold, a trust account was established, and state politicians have been “investing” the money in for-profit businesses ever since.
In the past four years alone, the state government of Idaho has purchased everything from a neighborhood beer pub to commercial office space, all under the leadership of Republican Governor C.L “Butch” Otter. This controversial practice came under national criticism back in 2010 when the Idaho government bought “Affordable Storage,” a small self-storage business in the capitol city of Boise, and then began telling would-be customers that “our rates are lower because we don’t have to pay taxes.” Ask residents of “red state” Idaho what they think of President Obama’s forced acquisitions of General Motors and the Chrysler Corporation, and they’ll likely tell you it was wrong. Yet most are unaware that their own state government is doing much the same as the President has done, and is competing against their business-owning neighbors.
While it’s hard to find an American politician who will tell you that they are anything short of “supportive” when it comes to small business ownership, it’s even more difficult to find one that really understands what it means to be that type of leader. The change in government policies that our nation needs won’t begin to happen, until American voters start paying attention and making better choices on election day.