Capitol Report – Jan. 26, 2017

Chief Justice Breckenridge Addresses the General Assembly

On Tuesday, Chief Justice Patricia Breckenridge delivered the last of the four big speeches at the start of session. I’ve never had much patience for pomp and circumstance. And with this being my seventh session, the novelty has worn off. At the same time, I have come to recognize that these civic rituals are important reminders of the impact the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government have on people’s lives. As old-hat as they may seem, one must endure and appreciate them as symbolic odes to the great responsibilities that come with public service.

In this week’s address, among other points on which I agreed, Chief Justice Breckenridge joined Gov. Greitens’ commitment to raise Missouri state employee salaries out of the cellar, calling for “21st century wages for 21st century work.” I’ve written repeatedly here in support and persistently worked through the budget process to move this from rhetoric to reality. Even in these tight times, I’m hopeful that we can improve state employee pay.

Rejecting Politician Pay Increases

Two years ago, in better fiscal times for the state budget, I sponsored and passed HCR 4 to reject a proposed politician pay increase by Citizens’ Commission on Compensation for Elected Officials. This winter, the Citizens’ Commission proposed another pay hike. The case against it is even stronger now. This time around, Rep. Bernskoetter is handling the rejection resolution. On Tuesday, this year’s version of HCR 4 passed out of the House by a vote of 154 to 5. The Senate has until Wednesday to do the same for the resolution to take effect.

Breaking Up the St. Louis Cab Cabal

“Government works best when it determines the rules of the road, not when it seeks to determine the composition of the traffic.” That quip from law Prof. Richard Epstein is one of my favorites, and it applies across government. Broad, simple, and clear rules of general applicability are better than narrow, complex, and opaque rules with exceptions to the exception. (As I’ve said often in this space: the devil is in the details. In drafting legislation and administrative rules, it is far easier to state this general goal in the abstract than it is to accomplish it in the real world.)

This week, the House passed legislation that fits Epstein’s rule. Under current law, to operate in Missouri, transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft must comply with varying regulations in any municipality in the state in which they wish to operate. In St. Louis, the regulations are particularly ridiculous. There, incumbent cab companies control the St. Louis Metropolitan Taxicab Commission and have the power to keep new competitors out of the marketplace.

This cab cabal has the monopoly power to determine who competes against them and how. Their rulebook is 152 pages long. For a new company to enter the market, it must first obtain a Certificate of Convenience and Necessity from the board controlled by the new company’s potential competitors. Under Rule 203A, the Cab Cabal can base its decision on, among other things, “the color scheme proposed to be used” by the applicant, whether the existing cab companies are already “sufficient to properly meet the needs of the public” or “other relevant facts as the MTC may deem advisable or necessary.” In other words, the Cab Cabal can accept or deny an application for nearly any reason.

House Bill 130, sponsored by Rep. Kirk Mathews, does an end run around the cab cabal. Instead of requiring innovative new companies to kiss the rings of the various local regulators everywhere in the state, HB 130 establishes a simple statewide regulatory regime. This new statewide regulation requires companies to (1) disclose their fares in a transparent fashion, (2) inform riders of their driver’s information before a ride begins, (3) provide their riders with an electronic receipt, (4) implement and enforce a zero tolerance policy for drunk drinking, (5) require driver’s to have insurance, minimal traffic tickets in the past three years, and be at least 19 years old, (6) adopt and enforce a privacy policy protecting the personally identifiable information of riders, and (7) adopt non-discrimination policies.

Uber is active in 81 countries and 563 cities around the world. Incumbent cab companies who currently monopolize or quasi-monopolize their regions oppose them. Naturally, anytime a business enjoys monopoly or near monopoly status, it will do everything it can to maintain the status quo. This week, the Missouri House took a big step to ensure Uber and companies like it will be able to operate everywhere in Missouri. HB 130 passed overwhelmingly, 140 to 16. It’s time to bring this 21st century service into our state.