Entrepreneurs wanted, but young people need not apply

Tarren Bragdon Contributor
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Watch out, Wall Street.  Back off, Big Oil.  You’re getting muscled off the top of “Government’s Most Wanted” list by a pair of tycoons on opposite ends of the country, and they’re doing it all before bedtime.

In Oregon, little Julie Murphy was determined to raise money for a Disneyland adventure for her and her mom.  At seven, her options were limited.  She could either open a lemonade stand, or lobby Congress to fund a multi-million dollar Mickey Mouse Appreciation Fund.

Unfortunately, with $2.6 million in federal funding to promote responsible drinking among Chinese prostitutes, and $3.4 million to build an underground turtle tunnel in Florida, mother-daughter vacations didn’t seem like a priority–the exception being Michelle Obama and daughter Sasha’s jaunt to Spain earlier this month.

Julie opted for the lemonade stand, but her neighborhood didn’t offer enough foot traffic (Location, Location, Location!).  So she and her mom travelled to an arts festival attended by about 15,000 people, where Julie sold her lemonade for $0.50 a cup.

Everything was going smoothly until Portland, Oregon health officials shut down seven-year-old Julie’s lucrative operation and threatened her with a $500 fine because she hadn’t purchased a temporary permit, at a cost of $120, to sell her lemonade.

Nationwide public backlash ensued.  The American people would not tolerate Big Government shutting down little Julie’s lemonade stand.  Fearful the controversy would grow, Portland officials ultimately let Julie re-open her lemonade stand.  She went on to earn more than $1,800 for her trip.

Julie’s encounter with city bureaucrats and the ridiculous regulations they enforce is not unique.  Another instance of government stomping on entrepreneurial youth, much closer to home for this author, took place in the other Portland—Portland, Maine.

Just a ferry ride off the coast of mainland Portland sits Peaks Island.  The island, two miles long by one mile wide, has a year-round population of less than 1,000, but its population spikes to between 4,000 and 5,000 during the tourist months of summer.

Matt Rand, now a 19-year-old student at Tufts University, has been offering rides to island-goers for the past two summers in his family’s four-seater golf cart.  He doesn’t charge for the service, but people have been happy to give Matt a tip after their ride.

While Matt was developing his skills as a young entrepreneur, driving his golf cart to meet demand, he was driving Portland, Maine politicians crazy at the same time.  They saw Matt as competition that needed to be eliminated.

Last year, the Peaks Island Transportation System, a city-supported non-profit, spent $20,000 in city funds to buy a van meant to serve as an island taxi.  The problem for Matt was that his golf-carting was stealing business from the government taxi service.

We know what happens when private sector capitalism and innovation competes successfully against government, don’t we?

That’s right; by a 5-3 margin, the Portland City Council effectively voted to stomp out the competition 19-year-old Matt and his golf cart posed by requiring people who offer rides for tips to be licensed as taxi drivers, and carry the same insurance required of taxi drivers—which costs $5,000 a year.

Matt has confirmed that he will finish the summer season offering rides around the island, as the law does not take effect until the end of September.  But with the cost to Matt in complying with the new law, it remains to be seen if he will be able to continue his operation next year.

Julie and her lemonade stand, and Matt with his golf cart, represent the entrepreneurial spirit that made America great.  Rather than embrace and celebrate their entrepreneurialism, Big Government at the local level has targeted them as threats.  This is particularly troubling considering the level of unemployment for teen boys in Maine now stands at 31 percent.

This isn’t just punishment for a lemonade stand or a golf cart.  The lessons Julie and Matt have learned are the same ones other small businesses across the country are learning every day.  The only way an agenda of Big Government control can succeed is by muscling out the competition, in whatever form it takes.

Last week, The Maine Heritage Policy Center’s Center for Constitutional Government announced that we are representing Matt Rand and will sue the City of Portland if they do not rescind this anti-competitive measure.  Previous cases of the U.S. Supreme Court and Maine Supreme Court are clear: Matt Rand has a constitutional right to earn a living . . . even in Portland.

Tarren Bragdon is the chief executive officer of The Maine Heritage Policy Center.  More information about Matt Rand’s case is available at MaineFreedomForum.com.  Mr. Bragdon may be reached at tbragdon@mainepolicy.org.