Trade Codes and Rent Seeking Are Hot in Missouri Tonight
St. Louis County, the city of St. Louis, and Kansas City are all seeing examples of preferred legislation for favored construction trade groups. Thankfully, some of the examples have not gone forward, but others have.
Let’s start in Kansas City, where the city council appears set to establish new code requirements for doors. That’s right — doors. Apparently, the incentive we all have not to get robbed isn’t good enough in KC; now you’ll be subject to mandates to install special doors on new homes, which will raise the cost of housing in KC (although probably only marginally). At least they got rid of one bad part of the proposal:
[Councilwoman Cathy] Jolly brought the idea to the council in April, but encountered resistance from some council members who worried that some of the new code requirements would give a competitive advantage to an Overland Park company that specialized in a device to reinforce door frames.
Jolly insisted she was not trying to play favorites, and the latest version of the ordinance deleted language aimed at a particular device or specification.
I still think the reinforced door requirement is unnecessary, but at least the most “rent-seeking” aspect of the proposal was removed.
On to St. Louis. Before I criticize, I shall praise. There was an insanely obvious example of rent-seeking this month as the fire sprinkler industry attempted to get a county code passed that would require a comprehensive fire sprinkler system in every new home built in the county. I give both the sprinkler industry and the union credit for not even trying to deny the obvious benefits to them. The next item will get no such credit. The article features this quote from the president of the Home Builders Association of St. Louis & Eastern Missouri:
“The sprinkler industry has been basically advocating mandatory sprinklers in all new homes for probably 20 years and realized, ‘We can’t sell this to the general public, so let’s focus our efforts on convincing the fire service community,'” he said.
Mike Mahler, business manager for the 500 members of Sprinkler Fitters Local 268, conceded [the] point but said that did not mean residential sprinklers were not a good idea.
“We got the ball rolling on this because this is a great product,” Mahler said. “We educated the fire marshals: Here’s what sprinklers can do, here’s how they can save lives. And the fire marshals carried the ball from that point on.”
I commend the St. Louis County Council for removing this requirement from the new building code. Mandatory sprinklers are not needed for safety in the county and were properly taken out of the bill.
But on the other hand, the council seems set to approve a new licensing requirement for residential HVAC workers in St. Louis County. The city of St. Louis just passed the same requirement in April. Jefferson County is supposedly going to consider it later this year. Wherever it passes, it’s bad. This type of licensing requirement is a totally unnecessary handout to current HVAC contractors who want to push current and future competitors out of their way. It is “rent-seeking” at its worst. I testified against the bill yesterday at a committee hearing. At least two of the councilmembers asked some terrific questions of the public works director, and appear set to vote against it — although it will still probably pass. One of them summed up the real reasons behind the move in the a Post-Dispatch article about the licensing proposal:
“There is no evidence of a dangerous situation,” [Councilman Greg] Quinn said after the committee meeting. The licensing “was not generated by the public. It was generated by the industry to protect itself from competitors and increase profit,” he said.
To sum up, the makers or installers of doors, fire sprinklers, and heating and air conditioning units have all sought protective measures from local government. The same thing happens all the time at the national level, and it is one of the most depressing aspects of democracy.