This commentary originally appeared in Forbes on August 21, 2015.
In Texas, the City of Austin just launched a radio ad campaign to inform the public that, if they charge money to haul away sticks from a neighbor’s yard, they’ll first need a “Hauler for Hire” license for $100, thank you very much.
The $100 license is required for anyone seeking to haul away solid waste of any type—tree limbs, old couches, rocks—from an individual residence. Prior to last November, these services were unregulated by the city, allowing anyone with an old pickup truck to earn a few extra bucks if they were willing to invest some hard work into cleaning up a backyard, then taking the debris to the local landfill.
Whom is the City of Austin trying to protect with this new law? Was there a problem with unregulated stump-haulers? Were neighborhoods being ravaged by unlicensed pickup truck owners charging octogenarian widows $2,000 for taking an old refrigerator to the dump? No.
The amendment in Austin’s solid waste services ordinance was subtle—simply striking one line from the existing “Private Collection Service” licensing regime that provided an exemption for “a private collection service that hauls refuse from single family residences only.” In other words, garbage truck companies were licensed while the dude with the pickup truck wasn’t.
If the new “Hauler for Hire” license only required payment of $100, the burden on the working poor might not be too onerous. But, licensing itself brings additional requirements.
First of all, vehicles used to take trees to the trash must be inspected, including being “fitted with a substantial, tight-fitting enclosure” and a “closely fitting cover” with the city’s code enforcement department reserving the right to inspect the vehicle “at any time.”
Further, twig truckers must now carry at least $1 million in combined liability auto insurance—more than 10 times the minimum state requirement for financial responsibility. San Antonio-based USAA, one of America’s largest and best-regarded insurance companies, calculated that the yearly difference in insurance premiums between Texas’ legally-required basic financial responsibility and that required under the new Austin law was almost $100 more per year.
Lastly, if someone does hire themselves out to clean up a yard and carry the waste to the dump and they’re caught, the minimum fine is $100 for the first offense going as high as $2,000, with court fees tacking on additional expense. If the fine isn’t paid, then an arrest warrant can be issued. Who knew that hauling for hire could get you hauled to the hoosegow?
Arif Panju, attorney at the Texas office of the Institute for Justice, said “This is yet another example of occupation licensing laws targeting entrepreneurs trying to climb up the economic ladder while providing no public benefit to consumers whatsoever.” Panju added, “Barriers like these make it harder for people to build new businesses, particularly minorities, getting a start on the American Dream—when one in three Texans needs a license to go to work in the morning, then occupational licensing has gone too far.”
The ongoing assault on economic liberty coming from local government in Texas led Gov. Greg Abbott to warn in January that “We are forming a patchwork quilt of bans and rules and regulations that are eroding the Texas model.”
Comparatively speaking, Texas is in the middle of the pack for its occupational licensing burden, ranking 23rd best out of the 50 states, according to the Mercatus Center’sFreedom in the 50 States. What are the three worst states to try to earn a living independently? Nevada is the toughest, followed by California and Arkansas.
If Austin’s “Hauler for Hire” license doesn’t appreciably augment public health and safety or protect consumers, why pass the law in the first place? Panju offered a reason, “In our experience, laws like this one are the result of politically-connected insiders asking government to protect them from competition.”
If public safety isn’t boosted by the small hauler’s license, then what does the $100 fee fund? Well, it pays for the city bureaucrats who collect the fee—a self-justified perpetual-motion money machine, if there ever was one.
Oh yes, and those radio ads? They’re mandated by the ordinance which requires Austin’s “Code Compliance Director” to “establish a program to educate the public and solid waste haulers about this Chapter.” Fortunately, the ads informed the author as well.
Chuck DeVore is Vice President of National Initiatives at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. He was a California Assemblyman and is a Lt. Colonel in the U.S. Army Retired Reserve.