Steve Compton, owner of the Eaton Steakhouse in downtown Wichita, spoke to the Wichita city council on the public agenda at its February 3, 2009 meeting.
(The public agenda is where anyone can speak about any topic for up to five minutes.)
Mr. Compton said he chose a bad time to start a business a year and a half ago. His business is just as important as others, he said, and he wants the city council to consider small business when making their plans as to which businesses to help. He said his business has 28 employees. He asked the city council for its support and consideration, without asking for anything specific.
Readers of the Voice For Liberty in Wichita know that I oppose subsidy to business. Therefore, I oppose Mr. Compton’s efforts. His request, however, illustrates the problems that arise when government chooses to subsidize some firms at the expense of others. This request is sort of the opposite case of the warning that Wichita Interim City Manager Ed Flentje issued to the council last summer regarding a loan interest subsidy made to the Warren Theater: “There are in this community much larger businesses with much larger employment who may see this opening as something that will open a door for those businesses to come and say, ‘You’ve done it before, you can do it for us.'”
Mr. Compton didn’t ask for a subsidy, but he must want something from the city. The problem is that the city — assuming it wants to — will have a hard time finding a basis on which to decline this request. That is, a basis that springs from any sense of equity, as it seems that Mr. Compton’s business doesn’t fall into any of the categories of economic development incentives Wichita has to offer.
The city dishes out economic favors at nearly every council meeting. For example, at today’s meeting the council is granting three Wichita companies a big favor, forgiving them from paying property tax on some of their property. These actions are being taken without any discussion except for the presentation made by Allen Bell, the city’s economic development director.
So why is the door open for some companies, but not others?