Friday, February 13, 2009

Quinn: New Small Business Commissioner?

It was fitting yesterday that on the morning of Speaker Quinn's State of the City speech-a speech that purported to develop some kind of small business agenda-Crain's Insider printed the following item:

"The city’s recently completed report on commercial food-waste disposals predicts that their legalization would require billions of dollars in sewage-system upgrades. Supporters of the disposals are dismayed, but they had expected the study to reflect the long-standing opposition of the Department of Environmental Protection. They say the agency had similar concerns 20 years ago about residential disposals before they were legalized. The report found that 10 other big cities allow, encourage or require food businesses to use disposals."

The back story here is that the Alliance had helped to promote a pilot program for the use of commercial food waste disposers-Intro 133. The bill, sponsored by Health Chair Joel Rivera, had garnered 33 council supporters when, in a last minute deal with the mayor, Quinn sandbagged the legislation in favor of the above mentioned pilot program; a study that we predicted would result in the dismissal of the entire concept.

So the Speaker-now posturing as a some kind of small business champion-used her influence to kill a measure that would have reduced disposal costs for the city's supermarkets, green grocers, and restaurants by up to 90%! What Quinn now proposes-when seen in contrast to concrete practical and ameliorative measures-is simply empty rhetoric; a Marie Antoinette parody that amounts to: "Let them eat my words."

What do the city's small businesses have to look forward to in the Quinn Plan? Here's the City Room take: "Ms. Quinn’s other proposals included a hodgepodge of suggestions...Streamlining the permit and licensing process for small businesses...Waiving for 12 months permit and license fees...Developing focused neighborhood marketing campaigns to help small businesses...Creating a pilot program to require city agencies to review the effects of new regulations affecting small businesses...Creating a one-time amnesty program for those with outstanding violations to pay portions of fines."

We really like the neighborhood marketing plan-where public money will be used to tell local retailers how to better market their wares in neighborhoods that they do business in. But really, isn't this pretty thin gruel? Nowhere does the speaker acknowledge that it is the high cost of doing business-the taxes and regulations Quinn supports-that is threatening the survival of many small retailers.

We certainly didn't see her come out for the Robert Jackson sponsored Small Business Protection Act, something that would offer retailers tangible relief from the bane of arbitrary eviction. And her regulatory relief is comical-along the lines of pay the dumb fine now and we'll graciously amnesty the penalties. Nothing on the order of rolling back the Quinn supported commercial real estate tax that effectively raised every retailer's rent by 20% in 2003. Nothing about streamlining the municipal code so that the anachronistic ordinances, those whose only vestigial function is to raise revenue, are eliminated. Or, more simply, nothing proposing that the first fine for any retailer act a a warning; allowing the city to function as an educator rather than a punisher of small business.

Instead we get the Machiavellian appearing to be good-all the while she uses her bully pulpit to go after the wealth providers in the city; exacting more tribute for the Leviathan that has nurtured her entire career. Our take on the Quinn speech is that it is an improvement over last year only to the extent that she didn't pay someone $12,000 to write it.