Starting a small business in Illinois is more akin to running a marathon than a sprint. And the regulatory marathon Illinois entrepreneurs face is often full of roadblocks and hurdles.
Life can be especially difficult for those in industrial occupations, and for entrepreneurs looking to innovate. From start to finish, Illinois entrepreneurs are nickel-and-dimed and regulated to the edge of their business existence, leaving many investors unwilling to put investment dollars to work in Illinois.
What’s most objectionable about Illinois’ big-government approach to small business is how it squeezes the little guy. While big businesses are able to work the system, make political contributions, and get special deals, small businesses are left to fend for themselves, often in the face of a regulatory field mined with legal requirements set by politicians and cronies hostile to new competitors.
But state politicians can flip the script in favor of entrepreneurs by enacting a law to protect the right of all Illinoisans to earn an honest living. Such a measure would prevent onerous and unfair regulations that make entrepreneurs’ lives difficult without serving a public interest.
One major reason small businesses are so vulnerable is because a court will generally not strike down a law or rule that regulates business activities so long as the government shows the law or rule is “rationally related to a legitimate government interest.” In practice, it is very easy for governments to pass this “rational basis” test.
This standard does far too little to protect entrepreneurs, especially in Illinois, and Chicago in particular. Governments can write laws and rules that violate the most basic right of a person to earn a living and feed his family so long as the government can argue the law is connected to a reasonable public interest – an incredibly low legal standard that is insufficient to protect some of the most vulnerable Illinoisans. The rational basis standard should be replaced with a higher standard that restricts regulations to those that are, in the language of model legislation proposed by the Goldwater Institute,
“demonstrably necessary and carefully tailored to fulfill legitimate public health, safety, or welfare objectives.”
A prime example of how the current regulatory standard leaves entrepreneurs vulnerable is Chicago’s food truck law. Food trucks have recently been coming under fire as Chicago City Hall enforces rules and regulations designed to make it difficult to operate a food truck – rules that benefit brick-and-mortar restaurant competitors, but that lack any clear benefit for the food-buying public. The food truck law greatly restricts where food trucks can locate in the city, and gives them only a two-hour window in which to operate.
Illinois entrepreneurs need protection from such regulatory abuse, and a Right to Earn a Living Act would help. Businesses should only be subject to well-tailored regulations that serve a legitimate public health, safety or welfare purpose.
Illinois’ regulatory field hurts overall economic growth and job creation, and it also disadvantages smaller businesses compared with their larger competitors. Large, established businesses can often afford to make political contributions to aldermen to get regulations passed that thwart new competitors. And big business can also more easily absorb the cost of complying with numerous regulations, compared with fledgling enterprises.
In a state as jobs-starved as Illinois, there are few things as important as enabling Illinoisans to provide for themselves and their families. And there are few things as immoral as the government’s standing in the way of a small-business owner striving to make ends meet. Illinois lawmakers should come together on a bipartisan basis and support a statewide law that protects’ Illinoisans right to earn a living.