Let private enterprise handle business

A Kentucky city’s decision nearly two years ago to compete with local businesses by selling gasoline is at the center of a debate in the General Assembly. A bill introduced earlier in February would create some hurdles for cities that want to sell commercial products or services.

Sen. Chris Girdler, R-Somerset, introduced similar legislation in 2015, but the measure did not advance to a vote. He hopes he can make a better case for the legislation this year.

Senate Bill 173, filed on Feb. 10 with Sen. Joe Bowen, R-Owensboro, as a co-sponsor, has our attention because we typically oppose governments doing business in direct competition with private entities. In most cases, this kind of interference from a government just tramples on the free market — and there’s already too much of that going on.

Girdler is behind this bill because his hometown started selling gasoline in the summer of 2014. Mayor Eddie Girdler, who is a distant cousin of the senator, and other supporters of the city’s fuel center have argued the enterprise benefits residents because it forced privately owned gas stations to lower their prices.

If it passes, the bill would require a government to examine the impact of its business on the local economy before selling a product or service. A public hearing on the proposal would be required, and the government would have to explain the findings of its impact study.

Sen. Girdler describes his bill as a transparency measure.

“In this day and age when the government has a hard time running itself, the last thing it should do is compete with private business,” the senator said, according to the Commonwealth Journal newspaper in Somerset. “This is why I filed SB 173, to bring some common sense and transparency to the operation of all forms of government in Kentucky if they should pursue such an endeavor.”

One provision of the bill, which deals with a public notice prior to a government’s hearing on a business, caught our attention. Some lawmakers want to allow a government agency to publish the notice on a government website. We are not shy to make a cause for keeping those notices in newspapers because it can ensure a wider distribution and protects against a government agency that might want to hide a notice in an obscure spot on its website.

We can sympathize with Somerset officials who wanted to help residents with their fuel costs. But their approach sets a bad precedent and potentially creates another level of bureaucracy.

Kentucky New Era

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