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Regulation in Wichita, a ‘labyrinth of city processes’

Wichita offers special regulatory treatment for special circumstances, widening the gulf between the haves and have-nots. From June 2016.

The Wichita Eagle reports that part of what the City of Wichita is offering to Cargill as an inducement to stay in Wichita is regulatory relief.1 In particular:

The city has offered smaller incentives to Cargill as well, including an ombudsman.

[Wichita assistant city manager and director of development Scot] Rigby called the ombudsman something of a project manager.

“They’ll just call one person,” Rigby said of Cargill’s dealings with the city. “It’s a way to eliminate … a business trying to figure out, how do I get through the labyrinth of city processes?”

Rigby said the city has done this with other companies, such as Spirit AeroSystems and JR Custom Metal Products, and would do it for any company with an expansion or project that needs streamlining.

He said the city also is committed to work with the state and the Greater Wichita Partnership to create a talent recruitment position that could help Cargill and other companies recruit employees at all levels.

The city has said it would offer a 15-day turnaround instead of the customary 30 days for plan review and permits, along with a 50 percent reduction in plan review, utility and building permit fees.

Let me repeat the highlights:

labyrinth of city processes

streamlining

15-day turnaround instead of the customary 30 days

50 percent reduction in … fees

All of this is an explicit admission that City of Wichita regulations are burdensome. If not, why would the city devote time and expense to helping Cargill obtain relief from these regulations?

Further: Why do we have these regulations? If the purpose of the regulations is to protect people from harm, how can we relax or streamline them for the benefit of a few companies? Wouldn’t that expose people to the harm the regulations purportedly prevent?

What’s even worse is this: Cargill is a large company with — presumably — fleets of bureaucrats and lawyers trained to deal with burdensome government regulation. These costs can be spread across a large company. Meaning that Cargill can afford to overcome burdensome regulations.

What about the small companies that don’t have fleets of bureaucrats and lawyers? That can’t spread the costs of burdensome regulation across a large volume of business? What will the city do for these companies? This is especially important because the spirit of entrepreneurship the city wants to cultivate is most commonly found in small, young, companies. The type without fleets of bureaucrats and lawyers.

Well, the city says it would do for any company what it is doing for Cargill.

Except: How are companies supposed to know to ask for regulatory relief, streamlining, and a discount on fees?

And is it equitable to offer special companies special regulatory relief when it is not readily available for all?

Business Perceptions of the Economic Impact of State and Local Government Regulation coverLast year Kansas Policy Institute, in collaboration with the Hugo Wall School of Public Affairs at Wichita State University produced a report titled “Business Perceptions of the Economic Impact of State and Local Government Regulations.”2 On the city’s offer of special treatment to one company, KPI Vice President and Policy Director James Franko commented:

This bears out one of the key findings from a paper we did with WSU’s Hugo Wall School: Companies want transparency and simplicity in the local regulatory environment. Businesses are not as concerned about the regulation themselves as they are in navigating what the city admits is a “labyrinth” of regulations and processes.

The regulatory process should be simplified for all businesses, not just a few. Hopefully there is a realization that an “ombudsman,” or better yet a transparent, straightforward regulatory regime, should be available to anyone wanting to start or grow a business in Wichita.

Instead of the city offering regulatory relief on an as-needed, as-requested basis, why not simplify and streamline regulation for everyone? That seems to make a lot of sense. But if you were a city politician or bureaucrat, this isn’t in your best interest. If regulations are burdensome, and you — as a bureaucrat or officeholder — can offer relief, then you have power. You become important. You have the ability to grant favors and make people feel special.

But if regulations were streamlined and reformed for everyone as the city will do for Cargill, then bureaucrats and politicians would not be so powerful and important. But the people would be more free and prosperous. Think about that trade off.

An interview with James Franko of Kansas Policy Institute on the topic of regulation is on WichitaLiberty.TV here.


Notes

  1. Rengers, Carrie. City offers Cargill tax abatement, parking garage financing. Wichita Eagle, June 6, 2016. Available at www.kansas.com/news/business/article82076122.html.
  2. Kansas Policy Institute. Business Perceptions of the Economic Impact of State and Local Government Regulations. Available at kansaspolicy.org/businesses-welcome-transparent-accessible-accountable-state-local-regulations/.