Why Does Philly GOP Councilman Brian O’Neill Hate Job Creators?

I take pro-market positions on some issues not because I have some ideological problem with government regulation as such, but because there are a number of issues where I think a market-based approach gets you closer to the progressive ideal outcome than a regulatory kludge. It’s a means, to be considered on an issue by issue basis, not an end in itself.

But your modern Republican Party talks about the virtues of the free market religiously, as an end in itself to be pursued above all others. Claiming to believe that unconstrained pursuit of individual self-interest leads to maximum prosperity for all is one of the key markers of Republican political identity. It is an idea that is core to their diagnosis of the Great Recession – if only we would roll back all these taxes and government regulations on businesses and polluters and rich guys, the Job Creators would spring into action and all would be right again.

So it’s amusing to me that Brian O’Neill, one of the only real live Republican politicians on Philadelphia City Council, doesn’t seem to have gotten the message because here he is introducing new regulations to block Job Creators from opening businesses in his district:

His original proposal would restrict 15 uses in those districts beyond what was decided on by the Zoning Code Commission and City Council last December. Several members of City Council—in particular Councilwoman María Quiñones-Sánchez, whose 7th District has more CMX-2 than any other—expressed opposition to the changes in a Rules Committee hearing last week.

On Tuesday afternoon, O’Neill circulated to his Council colleagues a handful of amendments to his two bills. In a memo, he explained that the latest version of his bills makes storage facilities and community gardens a Special Exception use in the two districts, rather than prohibiting them outright like his earlier proposal did. He also changed dry cleaning from a special exception to a permitted use, and prohibited gas stations, vehicle repair, and personal vehicle sales and rental in CMX-2, where they were previously allowed by right or by special exception. Under his amendments, the height limit in his proposed CMX-2.2 district would go to 55 feet from 38.

“By-right” zoning is clearly the free market position in this debate. You have the owner of a privately-owned commercial space and the owner of a privately-owned business trying to come together and make a contract that’s mutually beneficial to both of them. It’s a win-win-win. The building owner gets the rent money, the business owner gets a space to sell his wares, and the neighborhood gets a new place to buy stuff.

O’Neill wants to put the government in the middle of that trade, and decide arbitrarily whether or not it’s allowed to happen. It is a perfect example of the kind of regulation the national Republican Party says is holding back job creation, and in this particular instance they’re exactly right. Zoning is an issue where we could use some pro-market voices for letting people do what they want on their own property. But you rarely see city-level Republican politicians willing to look at these issues through that lens, and instead we get this sort of suburban tribalism where Brian O’Neill wants to use the power of the state to force Job Creators to build more parking spaces or else they’re forbidden from opening in his neighborhood.

(Thanks: Jared Brey)

Comments

  1. GDub says:

    I think it is fairly easy to explain. While there may be some semantic difference at the local level between parties on job creation, there’s little practical difference–everyone is “for” jobs.

    At the same time, there’s a bipartisan desire to get in the middle of every simple decision–to “represent” the public by “weighing in,” which just happens to often increase political power. The mortal enemy of any politician is clear, easy-to-apply rules and frameworks that rarely require the interference of elected officials, be that in housing construction, selling alcohol in a restaurant, or business development.

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