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Government should do no harm
July 5, 2010
by Ivan Raconteur

In recent years the line between government and private business has become increasingly fuzzy.

Part of this comes from the insistence, on the part of some government entities, to pick winners and losers among businesses. To put it another way, government has shackled some businesses, while rewarding others at taxpayers’ expense.

There has been a lot of attention to this subject on the state and national level, but even local government must address the issue.

In Lester Prairie, for example, there are recent instances where the city and the school board have raised concerns among business owners and individuals.

The city contacted downtown business owners to discuss merchandise that is displayed outside of their stores. The city expressed concern about these items blocking pedestrian traffic on the sidewalks, and creating safety issues.

Some business owners contend that the display of merchandise on sidewalks is necessary to their business. Some have said that if the city prohibits or limits the displays, they will discontinue the sale of bulk products such as salt, and this will be yet another loss of revenue that their businesses cannot afford.

In the case of the school district, the school board authorized the superintendent to develop specifications and seek bids for outsourcing custodial services at the school.

Some members of the building maintenance staff expressed concern for their jobs, and business owners urged the board to consider the long-term consequences of such a decision.

One business owner said a decision by the state that was intended to save money led to the school purchasing bread and other baked goods from a St. Cloud bakery, rather than the local bakery that had been supplying these products.

As a result, he said, the local bakery went out of business, and the owners moved out of town, taking their children out of the school district.

In the end, he said, the move cost the school more in lost taxes and school funding than it saved on the baked goods.

Another business owner said every business that the city loses affects other businesses, as well as the community as a whole.

In each of these cases, the government entities are trying to do the right thing.

The city is responding to residents’ concerns and looking for a compromise that will ensure pedestrian safety without hurting local businesses.

The school district is looking for ways to reduce costs in the face of funding cuts and declining enrollment.

In both cases, the situations have resulted in some interesting and important discussions.

Unlike some large corporations that seem to consider themselves above the law, and expect government to bail them out or provide outrageous advantages, most small businesses just want to be left alone.

Most small business owners, and indeed most private citizens, are not asking the government to help them; they are simply asking the government not to hinder them.

Small businesses and individuals are not looking for handouts, they are looking for the opportunity to go about their business without unnecessary interference from the government.

It is not too difficult to understand why people and businesses should want government to stay out of their way.

In view of the state’s apparent inability or lack of commitment to balance its budget, and the seemingly endless list of examples of fiscal mismanagement and cluelessness in government, one can see how small businesses and individuals might feel more comfortable being in charge of their own destiny rather than having the government tell them what to do.

As the economy continues to flounder, it will be interesting to see how these situations play out.

Decisions are relatively easy when things are booming and the economy is growing. But when money is tight and funding is disappearing, decisions aren’t easy at all.

It is during times like these that finding solutions requires wisdom and creativity.

It is during times of adversity that we learn what cooperation and leadership are all about.

This doesn’t mean we need government to step in and try to fix everything. What we do need is for the government to use restraint and at least do no harm.

We, as citizens and small businesses owners, are a resilient and creative group, and most of us will probably find our way through the minefield of the economic crisis.

What we don’t need is the government blundering about like a short-sighted hippopotamus, stepping on our toes while we do so.