By William R. Maurer
Once the engine of job creation in the Pacific Northwest, the economy of Washington State is in freefall. The Evergreen State lost 85,100 jobs from December 2000 to October 2002. Almost every sector of employment lost jobs during this time (with a notable exception being the government, which saw employment increase during this time period). Washington is at the top of unemployment lists and in some counties unemployment rates run as high as 13 percent. Washington’s unemployment rate is also considerably higher than the national average.
What response does the City of Seattle, which bills itself as “a great place to locate a business,” have to these grim statistics? One might think the City would try to help small businesses by loosening regulations, encouraging small business formation, lowering taxes and reducing barriers to entry for small entrepreneurs. After all, the City’s own website says that small businesses “provide the heart and soul of our neighborhoods.”
With the stroke of a pen, the City made the majority of Joe’s business illegal just so it could protect the market share of these two multi-billion dollar corporations.
Instead, Seattle is trying to put small businesspeople out of business by granting territorial monopolies to large, out-of-state corporations. It seems the City is willing to get rid of its “heart and soul” in order to protect the market share of big businesses.
Joe Ventenbergs is one of the small businesspeople the City claims to cherish. Joe owns Kendall Trucking, Inc. Based in Seattle, about 60 percent of Kendall Trucking’s business is hauling construction, demolition and landclearing waste from construction and demolition sites. Joe provides dumpsters to the sites, the construction and demolition companies fill up these dumpsters, and Joe takes the dumpsters away and unloads the contents at transfer stations in King County. One of the construction companies Joe hauls for is Haider Construction, Inc., which is owned by Ron Haider. Ron uses Kendall Trucking to haul construction waste from his remodeling sites because Joe is reliable and his service is faster and cheaper than the two largest waste hauling companies in Seattle, Allied Waste Industries of Scottsdale, Ariz., and Waste Management, Inc. (WMI) of Houston.
Rather than celebrate Joe’s and Ron’s efforts to grow their businesses, however, the City has made it illegal for them to do business with each other. Despite its pro-business rhetoric, in October 2002 the City granted territorial monopolies in hauling construction, demolition and landclearing waste in Seattle to Allied and WMI. With the stroke of a pen, the City made the majority of Joe’s business illegal just so it could protect the market share of these two multi-billion dollar corporations.
Even though Allied and WMI are often more expensive and slower, the City has told Ron he has to use these companies to haul construction waste from his construction sites or haul the materials himself. The City’s actions threatened to put independent waste haulers out of business.
That is, until the Institute for Justice Washington Chapter (IJ-WA) opened its doors.
Building on IJ’s history of success battling monopolies and barriers to entry for small entrepreneurs across the country, on May 13, IJ-WA filed its first lawsuit, which challenges the City’s illegal and unconstitutional grant of territorial monopolies in construction waste hauling.
This lawsuit, filed on behalf of Joe and Ron, is the first step in IJ-WA’s comprehensive effort to restore judicial protection for economic liberty—the right to pursue a business or profession free from arbitrary or excessive governmental regulation. This basic right is enshrined in the Privileges or Immunities Clause of the Washington Constitution, one of the most pro-liberty state constitutions in the nation. IJ-WA’s suit seeks judicial recognition that economic liberty is an essential part of the Evergreen State’s promise of opportunity and the heritage granted to the state by the Framers of the state constitution.
In bringing this suit, IJ-WA is making clear that the regulations in this case are designed solely to limit competition and stifle opportunity.
This marks IJ-WA’s first lawsuit, but it is only the first step. From its offices in Seattle, IJ-WA will litigate under the Washington Constitution to reinvigorate economic rights. In addition to its efforts on behalf of economic liberty, IJ-WA will work through the courts and in the court of public opinion to preserve property rights, promote educational choice and defend the right of Washingtonians to freely speak, write and publish on all subjects.
By filing its first case, IJ-WA put overreaching bureaucrats throughout the Evergreen State on notice that they should no longer expect to get away with interfering with individuals’ most fundamental rights. IJ-WA will continue to defend those rights in the coming months and years. The State’s hasty removal of its website showering money upon Hollywood producers—an obscene spectacle at a time of huge state budget deficits—demonstrates that the bureaucrats know we’re watching. But it’s only the beginning. Before long, government officials throughout the state will know that if they exceed their constitutional parameters, consequences are sure to follow.William R. Maurer is executive director of the Institute for Justice Washington Chapter.