By John Dunham
Managing Partner, John Dunham & Associates
On behalf of John Dunham & Associates, I’d like to welcome you to the Inaugural edition of REGonomics. As an economist, I’ve spent the good part of 30 years examining the economic impacts of taxes and regulations. It never ceases to amaze me the number of improbable regulations found on the books of Federal, state and local governments. Many are outdated or unnecessary, but nevertheless, have an economic cost to American taxpayers and the economy as a whole.
In this week’s edition we head to Buffalo, where restaurants must comply with a City Spitton Law from the 1880s.
Restaurants in Buffalo New York Must Spend $761,000 Annually to Comply With City Spittoon Law
The population of the City of Buffalo, New York, fell below 239,000 in 2013 according to the US Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census. This is down from 352,387 in 1900, when Buffalo was America’s 8th largest city.
While there are many reasons behind Buffalo’s demise, one is likely that there are literally thousands of regulations on the books making it difficult for businesses to operate. For example, the sanitation code of the City in its regulations pertaining to expectoration requires:
Every corporation, proprietor or other person owning, operating or controlling any store, factory, theater or other building or room which is used in common by the public or any depot or railroad station shall provide a sufficient number of nonabsorbent receptacles for expectoration and shall provide for the thorough cleansing and disinfection thereof at least once in 24 hours.
In other words, every company in Buffalo that allows the public into its premises has to provide a sufficient number of spittoons, and has to be sure that those spittoons are cleaned every day.
While this may seem silly, consider the average restaurant operating in the city would need to pay as much as $4.80 a day just for spittoon cleaning costs. This is based on an estimated number of 100 customers per spittoon, which may or may not be a “sufficient number.”
There are about 410 restaurants in Buffalo, not counting fast food type establishments. Enforcing this rule on these establishments could cost Buffalo restaurants alone as much as $1,975 a day, or $760,667 a year. This is equal to the total revenues of the average restaurant in the City. And this regulation applies to every business, not just restaurants, so the overall cost were it to be enforced would be significantly higher.
Of course it is important that people generally refrain from expectorating all over the place, but does the City of Buffalo really need to regulate this behavior to this degree? Cannot restaurant owners – or any business owner for that matter – ensure that their customers behave in a reasonable way, and if not, simply remove them from their establishment?
The fact that an 1800s spittoon law is still on the books in Buffalo, and could be punishable by a $1,500 fine, 15 days imprisonment and loss of a business license is simply scary, for what is to stop the City from randomly deciding to enforce the provision as a revenue raising measure. Over regulation is one of the greatest problems facing business in America today, and governments that leave ancient laws on their books are not helping.