Our Turn: Phoenix canceled Christmas because a guy handed out cocoa

Today, the Arizona Republic published an op-ed written by Christina Sandefur of the Goldwater Institute and Scot Mussi of the Arizona Free Enterprise Club about the recent decision by Phoenix bureaucrats to shut down a Christmas light display. It is a classic example of how the regulatory Grinch can steal Christmas, and why additional reforms are needed to protect home-based businesses and property rights in Arizona.
Phoenix Canceled Christmas Because a Guy Handed out Cocoa
By Christina Sandefur and Scot Mussi

Every year, Lee Sepanek’s Christmas display brings joy to Phoenicians, who visit to enjoy the glistening decorations and sip the hot chocolate he serves them.

But not this year. Thanks to Phoenix bureaucrats, Lee has been forced to cancel the show.

The trouble started this summer, when the city warned him he was in violation of its Mobile Food Vending Ordinance, even though he isn’t operating any kind of “mobile” facility. He doesn’t even charge for the cocoa — he just asks for donations. But the city says its rules are broad enough to prohibit even giving away cocoa — made from hot water and powdered mix — from your driveway.

Officials told Lee he “would need to find a licensed commissary kitchen as a ‘base’ to store, clean and prep any open food,” and that he would have to get a “special event/seasonal permit,” requiring fees and “inspections onsite.” They also complained that Lee was selling Christmas ornaments, arguing that violates Phoenix’s rules against having a “home occupation.”

In their two-page letter, the Goldwater Institute outlined multiple legal issues and factual inaccuracies in the approved resolution and ballot language, and asked the county to remove the proposition from the ballot to avoid a costly lawsuit if it is approved.

After local news exposed Lee’s story, the city indicated it might budge, but it’s too late. Even if city officials changed their minds, Lee couldn’t get the lights up in time for Christmas.

This is part of a larger problem.

Phoenix’s Grinch-like attitude is part of a larger problem: Across Arizona, local governments are working to shut down home-based businesses, violating private property rights and harming economic opportunity. The Legislature eased restrictions on home-based businesses slightly last year, but it’s time the state provided stronger protections for the right to work from one’s home.

Home-based businesses help make this country run. Apple and Disney were both started in garages. Lawyers, psychologists, furniture repairmen and data entry technicians all work from their homes. And it’s hard to see why it’s OK to do one’s own income taxes on the kitchen table but not for an accountant to do someone else’s in her home office.

Cities that shut down home-based businesses often complain about traffic or neighborhood parking, but there are already rules on the books addressing such concerns. Banning home-based businesses out of fear that some might lead to disruptions is like banning all backyard barbecues because some parties get loud.

And while it’s reasonable to regulate food preparation to protect against food-borne illnesses, the law already protects Arizonans’ right to sell or give away food they cook in their own kitchens.

We need broader protections.

The Goldwater Institute and the Free Enterprise Club are urging state lawmakers to broaden protections for home-based businesses.

In Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” Ebenezer Scrooge questions the Ghost of Christmas Present about laws that forced Londoners to close their stores on holidays — which, Scrooge says, essentially deprived them of income. Why, Scrooge asks, should the Ghost “cramp these people’s opportunities of innocent enjoyment?”

Shocked, the Ghost says he did no such thing — that was done by people who act “in our name” but who don’t really get the Christmas spirit.

It’s sad to think Phoenix officials have a poorer understanding of the holidays than Scrooge.

Media Credibility Takes Another Hit with False Ducey Pay Raise Story

In what has to be one of the biggest fake news stories of the year, the local media has decided to target the Ducey administration for pay raises that were provided to members of his staff.  According the Arizona Republic, since 2015 Governor Ducey has went on a wild spending spree rewarding political allies in his office yet giving paltry raises to school teachers.

It was a damning report with allegations of cronyism, taxpayer waste and hypocrisy, while subtly digging at his alleged lack of support for public education. One small problem: the entire report was factually wrong and designed to mislead readers on how teachers’ salaries are funded in Arizona.

If the reporters had taken the time to review the full executive budget, they would have discovered that overall spending has not increased in the Governor’s office since 2008. Even more damning, they have actually reduced the number of employees in the executive branch. So, the real story is Governor Ducey has restrained spending in his office and reduced the number of government employees by hiring and retaining better talent. Only in the minds of the media and the liberal Arizona Education Association would it matter that Governor Ducey decided to use the same amount of money on fewer, more qualified workers.

What about the lack of teacher pay raises and education funding? What the reporters didn’t include in the story is the fact that state education funding has actually increased the last 3 years. More importantly, when it comes to teacher salaries, the legislature and Governor have very little control over where the money is spent. Most of the decisions related to teacher pay is made by school boards at the local level, not at the state.

It is why 10 years ago lawmakers and the AEA publicly complained that school districts were not giving raises even after the legislature specifically included teacher pay increases in the state budget. It is why some school districts, following the passage of Proposition 123 last year (which increased annual K-12 funding by $350 million), approved teacher salaries across the board while others did not.

The same problem exists under Proposition 301, the 6/10 of a cent sales tax dedicated to education. Rather than have most of the money going to the classroom as intended, Arizona is now seeing a record amount going toward administration costs.

If the media is so concerned about pay raises and bloated salaries, perhaps they could investigate  how Prop 301 money has been spent and the kind of salaries and pay raises administrative staff in K-12 have received. Perhaps they could ask the teachers’ union why they are not holding press conferences to demand school administrators take a pay cut or require more money go into the classroom.

This will never happen, of course. The journalist class would rather push a false narrative that conforms with their left leaning bias than challenge their preconceived positions and report on the facts. It’s no wonder that their favorability ratings and credibility is in the toilet.

Fewer people than ever believe what the media says, and fake news stories like this only confirm their suspicion.

2017 Free Market Champion Award Winners Announced

2017 Free Market Champion Award Winners Announced

Phoenix, AZ – The Arizona Free Enterprise Club announced today the 2017 Free Market Champion Award recipients. The Free Market Champion Award is given to members of the Legislature that demonstrate leadership and a commitment to free market, pro-growth policies in Arizona.  This year’s award includes a picture and quote from world renowned economist and true defender of economic liberty, Milton Friedman.  The quote on the award reads, “A society that puts equality before freedom will get neither. A society that puts freedom before equality will get a high degree of both.”

The two recipients of the Free Market Champion Award are:

  • Senator Sylvia Allen (District 6)
  • Representative Anthony Kern (District 20)

The Free Enterprise Club is proud to honor these two legislators for their hard work and consistent support of economic freedom and prosperity at our state capitol,” President Scot Mussi said.  “They truly made a difference for Arizona taxpayers and businesses.”