May 2 2013
Donna Wiesner Keene
Innovations and jobs cannot cross borders due to conflicting regulations. Someone has to pay for the senseless American regulatory systems we see today -- and that someone is us.
Why, in the down economy with millions of Americans unemployed, is it so difficult to hire contractors for the routine services the happy homeowner needs?
Appliance repairmen in Virginia have permanent signs on their trucks asking for assistants. They turn down new customers like popular doctors now because they cannot find enough skilled help. Part of the problem is that the government requires a five-year apprenticeship before someone can be a licensed repairman. Just how does one fulfill a one-employer, five-year apprenticeship in a world where businesses come and go? At a major store like Home Depot or Sears, which typically pays just minimum wage. Such a long stint at low pay means that even the prospect of an eventual six-figure income isn't enough to entice many young workers into the field.
D.C. neighborhoods have a three-year wait to repair a simple private boat dock like the ones that dot the Potomac and other American rivers. Besides the local homeowner's association, several state and federal agencies -- the Army Corp of Engineers and the EPA among them -- require applications with two pages of small print with instructions like:
Three types of illustrations are needed to properly depict the work to be undertaken …. a Vicinity Map, a Plan View or a Typical Cross-Section Map. (sic)
After paying the specialized company to manage your application, the $795 government permit fee and the cost of the required drawings from the future dock builder, homeowners and their hired contractors wait up to a year for regulators to approve even a simple repair. No business can survive not knowing when or if their customers will be allowed to hire them so employees can be put to work. That's why so many of these contractors run on shoestring budgets and cannot expand to suit demand.
Republicans talk from time to time about the regulatory burdens on small businesses, but our communities are interdependent and the burdens affect us all. Expect to drive more than an hour to buy meat or butcher your game in the resort areas of Craig and Cascade, Montana, because the local butcher closed his business. He didn't sell it -- although he tried for years to sell or give the business away. With the whole community helping, no one found a butcher willing to risk a small business in a shaky economy regulated by ObamaCare (the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services), the U.S. Department of Agriculture and OSHA (Office of Safety and Health Administration of the U.S. Department of Labor), among others. The few butchers that exist want a vice president of Wal-Mart government relations between them and the government. The former butcher shop now sits vacant in Montana.
Washington is mystified by an economy in shambles. While Congress is debating exempting themselves from ObamaCare and discussing Internet taxation rules that would require record-keeping for all 50 states for every small business, the man on the street can tell you why he doesn't have a job. Hamstrung by Uncle Sam, too many businesses are afraid to hire. It's no wonder that so much home repair takes place on the black market. Unburdened by regulations and taxation, an illegal immigrant can tinker with your dishwasher with rudimentary knowledge of mechanics from his Brazilian high school classes and can come fix you dock tomorrow for an affordable price. If you won't hire the illegal immigrant, your option is to wait.
Much of government's expanding regulatory power is dotted with assertions about saving the environment or protecting the earth. Yet the opposite happens when innovations and jobs cannot cross borders due to federal, state, county and even conflicting local regulations. Someone has to pay for the senseless regulatory systems we see today -- and that someone is us.
Donna Wiesner Keene is a senior fellow at the Independent Women's Forum. She is a former Reagan, Bush and Bush Administration appointee, and is a landlord.