City Council v. Small Business: Two Strikes

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In two blindly stupid measures over the last ten days, Seattle's city council has declared war on neighborhood restaurants, the very constituency it should be courting, not harming.

Portland food carts.jpgFirst, by mandating paid sick leave for all employees without providing a tax subsidy or similar funding mechanism, the Council has reached well beyond the arena of public policy. Is it even the role of a municipality to mandate what amounts to private health insurance for hourly workers? A statewide initiative, appropriately funded, might make sense, but the Council's version of this bill adds a significant and specific dollar amount to the cost of doing business in Seattle. Perhaps there will be an offset in the city's iniquitous Business & Occupation Tax? Don't count on it.

And now Seattle is to begin subsidizing dozens of vulture food trucks with below-market "parking" fees, turning the city into a landlord and competitor for restaurant business. Where in the municipal code does it say that a particular category of entrepreneur is entitled to a city subsidy? Particularly if the beneficiary becomes a competitor to similar businesses that must pay full rent, utilities, property tax and commercial insurance? Any restaurant owner will complain about the high cost of water, sewage, electricity, dishwasher maintenance, walk-in refrigeration and fire suppression for range hoods, to name just a few of the myriad costs involved.

Please understand that I'm not arguing against street food. But Seattle's getting it exactly wrong, while Portland (with food pods equipped with city-supplied power, water, sewage) seems to be getting it right.

Portland, at least, charges fair market value for the utilities and real estate provided to the carts. And it should go without saying that I'm far from neutral. My dog in in this fight is a neighborhood restaurant, Enza Cucina Siciliana on Queen Anne, where my friends pay $30 per square foot in rent, plus insurance, gas, electricity, water, sewer, city and state taxes, L & I premiums, linen & laundry rental, dishwasher service, health department licensing, $400 a year in DOT fees for (year-round) sidewalk use, burglar alarm, aside from printing (menus) and phone (landline, internet), and a complete inventory of dishes, glassware and cutlery.

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I believe restaurants in San Francisco added a supplement to each check "for employee benefits" to call attention to them when a similar statute was enacted. A note on the back of the check could state, "if you don't believe you should be paying for these benefits when you yourself don't receive them, please inform your city councilman."

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This page contains a single entry by Cornichon published on July 19, 2011 8:00 AM.

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