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OUR VIEW: Gov. Hick, cut red tape as promised (vote in poll)

By: Wayne Laugesen
January 28, 2011
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What used to be a cute eccentricity of free-market conservatives has become the mantra of Democrats: Get government off the backs of small business. Let’s see if they’ll do just that, by allowing a group of legal African immigrants to pursue the American dream.

“We have to make America the best place on Earth to do business,” said President Barack Obama in his State of the Union address Tuesday.

Later in the speech, Obama said: “To help our companies compete, we also have to knock down barriers that stand in the way of their success.”

Then he said: “To reduce barriers to growth and investment, I’ve ordered a review of government regulations. When we find rules that put an unnecessary burden on businesses, we will fix them.”

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper told The Gazette’s editorial board that eliminating regulatory barriers to small businesses would be his top priority. Since then, he has delivered the same message in cities throughout the state. Google something like “Hickenlooper cut red tape small business” to see the extent of this promise.

Right under Hickenlooper’s nose, a morass of needless red tape has kept a small company from creating 150 jobs for a group of immigrants who cannot wait to start working for themselves.

Mile High Cab has tried to begin business in Denver since applying to the Public Utilities Commission for permission back in 2008. Most of the entrepreneurs drive cabs for the other two cab companies in Denver, which do not want to compete with a third company that plans to lower prices and improve services for customers. Unlike the companies protected by the PUC, Mile High Cab would not charge for bags and would have a fee structure much more friendly to parties of more than one.

More cabs in Denver would be great, making it easier to use the light-rail system and the airport. Today, cabs are hard to find and ultrapricey — just the way Yellow Cab and Metro Taxi want it. The same is true in Colorado Springs, where the PUC has refused to allow another cab company to enter the market.

Denver’s two cab companies have stopped at nothing in the past two years to prevent the PUC from allowing Mile High Cab to do business. Westword’s Joel Warner includes Hickenlooper as a politician who worked to stymie Mile High Cab while working as Denver mayor. It appears one opponent of Mile High Cab is quite thankful, as Warner reported Jan. 11 that Metro Taxi donated $10,000 to Hickenlooper’s gubernatorial inauguration fund.

The PUC gave its final death knell to Mile High Cab on Wednesday, after the company went through the agency’s “Rehearing, Rearrangement and Reconsideration” process. That leaves the company to fight for survival in district court, which would do well to put the PUC in its place.

(Vote in poll to the right. Must vote to see results. Thanks!)

Terry Bote, spokesman for the PUC, told The Gazette that the commission worries that too many cab companies could be detrimental to the public. Denver University law professor Tom Russell, who represents Mile High Cab, said the commission worries about “destructive competition,” and a “race to the bottom,” in which cab companies would somehow become worse in their efforts to be more popular than their competitors.

It’s an absurd theory. Increased competition only improves customer service and lowers prices. Since deregulation, airlines have installed leather seats, in-flight phones and individual TVs. Prices have come down. Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T, Cricket, Sprint, etc., are all in a race to the top. They constantly expand networks, lower prices and scramble to provide the best phones in order to win customers. Competition was the ingredient that improved education in Colorado. The dynamic would be no different with cabs, as seen in cities with minimal regulation such as New Orleans and Phoenix. In cities that don’t impede competition, cabs are affordable and easy to hail.

State-regulated competition of small business is the definition of red tape obstruction to success and jobs. On this, the left and right agree. A bill that would ease cab regulation is sponsored by Republican state Sen. Ted Harvey and Democratic state Rep. Daniel Kagan.

Gov. Hickenlooper, free small business by getting the PUC under control — despite the contribution of Metro Taxi. Appoint the right person to head the agency and instruct him or her to allow more competition, not less.

By serving as a protection racket, the PUC is an enormous barrier to innovation and new jobs.

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