One day, Saint Peter and Satan were arguing over whose responsibility it was to repair the fence between Heaven and Hell.  After much discussion, Saint Peter tells Satan if he doesn’t fix the fence, he will sue.  Satan’s response, “Where are you gonna get a lawyer?” Sadly, the constituents of St Charles County are facing a similar predicament.

The St Charles County Council voted 4-2 last night to place the “I’m not gonna try it, you try it” smoking ban on the November 2012 ballot.  Rather than take a stand for liberty, property rights and private business, four council members — Joe Cronin (R-St. Paul), Nancy Matheny (R-Weldon Spring), John White (R-St. Charles County) and Terry Hollander (R-St. Charles) — voted to take the “give it to Mikey, he’ll eat anything” route.

In a clear abdication of their responsibilities, they not only voted to support unwarranted government intrusion into private business decisions, but they voted to pass the buck  to the voters on whether to implement a smoking ban. The least these four could have done was man up and make the decision on their own rather than execute a Pilate maneuver.  That creaking sound you hear are the planks of the republic groaning under stress.

Two defenders of liberty — Joe Brazil (R-Defiance) and Jerry Daugherty (D-Portage des Sioux) — voted against placing the ban on the ballot.  Councilman Paul Wynn  was absent, but he has made it no secret that he disagrees with the government intrusion on private business and erosion of liberty represented by the smoking ban proposal.

These gentlemen get the fact that government has no business in private business affairs.  They understand that market forces are far more powerful and superior to government intervention.  If and when enough customers decline to patronize a business because they allow smoking, the business owner, not government, will then make a business decision about the issue.  That’s the way it should be!

Smoking ban proponents contend that the bans improve health and do nothing to harm the economics of businesses, bars and restaurants impacted by the bill.  The problem is that the facts don’t support that fairy tale ending.

In his report “The Economic Impact of a Smoking Ban in Columbia, Missouri: An Analysis of Sales Tax Data for the First Year“, Michael R. Pakko, a research officer and economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, performed a detailed analysis of the impact of Columbia’s smoking ban.  Here is an executive summary:
In January 2007, an ordinance took effect in Columbia, Missouri, banning smoking in all bars, restaurants, and workplaces. This paper analyzes data for sales tax collections at eating and drinking establishments from January 2001 through December 2007, including the first 12 months of the smoking ban. The analysis accounts for trends, seasonality, general business conditions, and
weather. The findings suggest that the smoking ban has been associated with statistically significant losses in sales tax revenues at Columbia’s bars and restaurants, with an average decline of approximately 3½ to 4 percent. Businesses that serve only food show no statistically significant effects of the smoking ban. Those that serve food and alcohol, or alcohol only, show significant
losses with estimates in the range of 6½ to 11 percent (with the larger losses associated with bars). Some individual businesses within each category may have been unaffected, whereas others are likely to have incurred much greater losses. (JEL I18, D78, H11)

While it is technically true that Columbia did not see a total decline in sales tax revenue as a result of the smoking ban, it did see a significant drop in growth of sales tax revenues.  Here’s a graphic from the report that shows this significant decline in growth:

The report also highlights local press articles showing that seven businesses decided to close citing the smoking ban as a factor in their decision to close.  Those businesses not only represented lost sales tax revenues to the city but lost jobs to all the employees working at those establishments.  Who knows how many jobs may be lost across St Charles County because of the actions of the four council members?

The casino only exemption has been the topic of much deserved focus.  The Ameristar Casino received a constitutionally questionable exemption in the bill passed by the Council.  They will be exempt from the smoking ban until casinos in St Louis County and City are also banned from smoking.  As with most government engineered false solutions, the exemption “sounds” logical. After all, with Harrah’s right across the river and with Illinois people coming to Missouri to smoke and gamble because they can’t in Illinois, we wouldn’t want the St. Charles casino to be placed at a competitive disadvantage now would we?

Yep, sounds good until you open the curtain and find that the brass band you heard was nothing more than a really good quality CD.  The fact is, the exemption argument is moot when not applied evenly.  The patchwork of exemptions contained in smoking bans across the region will result in St. Charles bars and restaurants being placed at a similar disadvantage that the casino exemption proponents claim they are protecting against.

St. Louis City, County and some municipalities with smoking bans have exemptions based on amount of food and/or alcohol served by an establishment.  Fall within a specified range and the exemption does not apply to you.  The bill passed by the County Council places every bar and restaurant in St. Charles County at a competitive disadvantage.  The impact of that disadvantage will have to be played out.  Unfortunately, I’m afraid we will be reading about the loss of jobs, reduction in sales tax revenue growth, and more. Just like Columbia experienced.

The good news is this is just round 1.  County Executive Steve Ehlmann is now the man on the hot seat.  He can, and should, veto the bill if for no other reason than the constitutionally questionable special casino exemption that you and I will have to pay to defend.

In reality, he should veto the bill not only because of the questionable constitutionality but because it is an attack on personal freedom, represents an expansion of government intrusion on our liberties and it’s just the right thing to do!