Flagstaff Proposition 100
Saturday, May 14, 2005
On Tuesday, voters in Flagstaff will vote on Proposition 100, a ballot proposal directed against big-box stores.
If passed, Prop 100 will do four things.
- Prevent retail establishments larger than 125,000 square feet
- Require retail establishments larger than 75,000 square feet to restrict the sale of non-taxable grocery items to less than 8% of their floor space
- Require retail establishments larger than 75,000 square feet to be subject to economic impact studies
- Require a conditional use permit (and the associated community input and hearings) for establishments larger than 75,000 square feet
Traditionally, the anti-free market interest groups use zoning, permiting, and licensing processes to fight the development of big-box stores. Arguably, these are legitimate functions of local government (I happen to disagree with that, but that’s another topic altogether).
Prop 100 goes far beyond zoning. It introduces the notion that Flagstaff can determine how businesses (even those already in existence) can conduct their operations. It limits the variety of products a business can sell, based on percentage use of its floors space, forcing businesses to sell mainly taxable items, or dedicate an entire store to the sale of non-taxable grocery items.
Prop 100 is motivated almost entirely by Walmart’s desire to expand it current operations in Flagstaff to include grocery sales at an existing outlet. It falls short of naming Walmart in the proposition text, but otherwise, it amounts to a bill of attainder against Walmart.
In a missguided attempt to protect Flagstaff against the evil Walmart, Prop 100 essentially limits competition, consumer choice, and strikes a blow to the knee caps of the free market. There’s a simple way to send Walmart a message, to restrict its impact upon a community: don’t shop there. But the anti-Walmart faction knows that this tactic won’t work. Their politics aren’t strong enough to actually prevent them from shopping at Walmart (after all, it’s so cheap, and really convenient), so instead, they must attempt to force local government to limit the existence of Walmart. Instead of taking personal responsibility, they want to concede their own free will to the government, throwing everyone else’s free will out the window with it.
Walmart hasn’t helped much to stem the anti-big-box tide. Their own political action group used Nazi imagery in an ad in the Arizona Daily Sun opposing Prop 100, showing Nazi book burnings, and equating them to the stifling of consumer choice by Prop 100.
It’s a reasonable parallel, but Nazi imagery is far too politically and emotionally charged for it to be tossed around any time the government tries to chisel away at the free market or individual liberty. For a large portion of the population, Nazism is equated first with Jews in gas chambers. Its assault on liberty was far more widespread than that, but any clueful ad exec knows better than to cater to anything less than the prevalent public attitudes.
Walmart’s blunder aside, Prop 100 is a horrible assault on the free market and personal liberty. It’s yet another example of people ceding control of their own lives to the government for the sake of convenience and personal weakness.
Flagstaff voters, vote no on Proposition 100.