June 13, 2013 Updated: June 13, 2013 at 1:50 pm
A Chinese saying notes, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." Like our state and nation, our city must begin the long road back from government excesses and regulatory strangulation of society. We reject the mirage of a more efficient police state. We should do less with less, knowing liberty is the absence of government control.
It is easy to repeat vague slogans of lower taxes and fewer regulations, but words alone do nothing. We must focus on repealing specific programs and government charges. My first target is city business licenses, permits, fines, and fees. We should repeal all those nuisance charges because they all discourage freedom and prosperity.
In 2012, the city collected $354,471 in business licenses, $476,638 in liquor licensing, and $291,500 in medical marijuana fees. Over $1.1 million was taken from the private sector that already collects and pays multiple taxes to the city. Compared to the true city budget of $380 million ($3,600 per average family of four), that is under one-third of one percent. We waste many times that on excessive salaries and benefits, giveaways of public funds, tax loopholes and rebates for political insiders, etc.
Randomly-selected businesses are charged arbitrary amounts - $15 per pool table; $765 per escort service, $515 per game room plus $15 per machine; $110 per pawn broker; $110 per trash company plus $50 per truck; $130 per security officer or taxi driver; and $115 per tree trimmer or hot dog vendor. Meanwhile, card players, car poolers, and hedge trimmers roam the streets unlicensed.
The city even charges a "going out of business" fee of $115. So after strangling a small company, it taxes the corpse again. Late charges are also stiff at 50 percent of the renewal fee.
Liquor vendors pay one of five fees between $1,004 and $1,075, except a bed and breakfast pays $25 and an art gallery pays $103.75. We also charge: $200-$400 as an occupation tax; a transfer fee of $754-$825; a transfer permit of $100; a renewal fee of $104-$177; and $38.50 per employee for criminal investigations. A "tasting permit" costs $115, so those with no taste don't pay. Does any of this make sense? We should have laws citizens respect.
All these businesses are lawful. Why "license" lawful activities? If they don't pay, the city rules them unlawful and shuts them down. That discourages entrepreneurs City Hall claims to love but secretly wants to control.
We hire people to collect these silly charges. City inspectors demand, "Show me your papers." We pay "economic development" bureaucrats to lure businesses to move here. Newcomers get tax rebates, loans, waivers, and other handouts - a competitive advantage over long-time local businesses. Is that fair?
It is not government's job to pick winners and losers, nor to run a job relocation service. Citizens have a right to live the American Dream of owning their own business without fiscal harassment.
The city charges retail businesses for a yearly license to collect city sales taxes. Past city councils even cut by millions of dollars the annual vendor rebate retailers kept to collect those taxes. That tax policy change cut business revenue, and illegally raised city sales tax revenue without voter approval.
Ending all these costs would be a great marketing tool. We would get national media coverage as the largest city in America to repeal all business fees. Let us be the model for what President Reagan called "a shining city on a hill." We already have the hill - Pike's Peak. Now all we need is the courage and wisdom to adopt policies that require a small sacrifice by City Hall to benefit our city as a whole.
Our city jobless rate exceeds the state average. Our economy is stagnant. Let's skip the speeches; our motto should be, "Let my people grow." Presidents Coolidge, Kennedy, Reagan, and George W. Bush proposed broad tax cuts to end recessions. They all worked.
While merited here as well, such tax cuts would affect more revenue and require more fiscal discipline than does this modest proposal, but as President Kennedy famously said: "Let us begin."
Helen Collins was elected in April to represent District 4 on the city council. Her phone at City Hall is 385-5492.